BrExpats

Understanding what Brexit means for British citizens living in the EU.

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How has Brexit affected British People in Europe?

ESRC-funded research with some of the 1.2 million British citizens living and working in EU member states examined how Brexit impacted on the lives of this population, and informed political understanding of groups campaigning for their rights.

Dr Michaela Benson and colleagues’ work has been cited as an expert source in UK parliamentary briefings about Brexit and citizens’ rights, and used to advise the UK government about future needs and support requirements.

Their research highlighting the lack of clarity about what British in the EU should do to regularise their status was cited as evidence within a House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee’s report on the progress of the UK’s negotiation on EU withdrawal. On the basis of this, in 2018 the Home Secretary wrote to the European Parliament’s Brexit Coordinator, calling for reassurances that member states were putting in place practical arrangements implementing the Withdrawal Agreement for UK nationals in the EU.

By engaging with grassroots advocacy groups and civil society organisations, Benson and Professor Karen O’Reilly’s research has ensured that the rights and concerns of this often-misrepresented population are made visible and consideration of their future needs was being included in the progress towards final Brexit arrangements.

Their work identified that public and political understandings of this population and what Brexit would mean for their lives was limited – evidence of the shape and size of the population of Brits living in the EU-27 was unreliable. They have shown that the image of typical expats as “gin-swilling old colonials in the French countryside or working-class little Englanders living on the Spanish coast” is inaccurate - nearly 80% of British citizens in the EU are of working age and below.

Benson and O’Reilly’s research also showed that the general public seemed largely unaware of how the EU Freedom of Movement Directives that brought EU citizens to live and work in the UK had also supported the settlement of UK citizens across the EU.

Britain is widely portrayed as an immigrant nation but the rate of British emigration is one of the highest in the world. Through their ethnographical research, Benson and O’Reilly have helped reinstate emigration as a significant contemporary social phenomenon.

This research was submitted for REF 2021.