Britain, British

Being a British Expat In the Wake of Brexit

I woke at 5am this morning and the first picture in my head was a map of the United Kingdom. The British referendum on the EU was weighing on my mind. Nearly two hours later I saw the BBC headline that it forecast that the ‘leave’ campaign would win the referendum. Britain is leaving the EU.

33.6 million people voted. 16,141,241 cast in favour of Remain and 17,410,742 in favour of Leave. Interestingly, the older Brits voted for Leave whilst the younger citizens opted for Remain.

My Facebook timeline is filled with shock, confusion and upset.

Of course, my network comprises British expats, Europeans and expats from other countries – many who could not vote or had no say in British matters. I wasn’t eligible to vote as I have been out of Britain for over fifteen years. I had no vote yet the result today will have an impact upon me personally, and my family. Some of my husband’s colleagues are today wondering what their future holds – in all likelihood they may lose their jobs. I see my friends who are EU citizens living in the UK also wondering how things will pan out for them in the future.

It feels like a hangover from a party I never went to. There are condolences being handed out to British expats left right and centre. It’s a strange day.

But what does this actually mean for British expats in EU countries?

David Cameron touched upon the issue on British expats minds this morning from outside the Downing Street property he will shortly vacate,

“There will be no immediate changes in your circumstances.”

Nothing we’ll notice straight away. But there will be changes in the future. My British passport will potentially have less weight in 27 countries in the future than it does now. There will be bureaucracy and paperwork to face that I currently don’t need to worry about. In the future I will have a different status than my husband and children in EU countries. Maybe.

But they are all things that will work themselves out. They are an inconvenience. Minor issues. I hope.

What I do have more of a problem with is that Nigel Farage is today the British face of victory (yes the same man who went on record this morning as saying “we won it without a bullet being fired’ obviously forgetting that Jo Cox lost her life on Britain’s streets last week, and withdrawing the Leave campaign claims that the money not paid into the EU would be paid into the NHS).

What I do have a problem with is the hatred and the negativity that has flooded my social media timelines over the last few months, and particularly the last week.

What I do have an issue with is the sudden increase in armchair politicians spouting their views about immigrants, public money and making Britain ‘great’ again. I have seen members of the British public interviewed on Dutch news programs who were asked which way they were voting and their reasons for doing so. Some of the answers made something shrivel up and die inside of me.

I have seen friends arguing on Facebook with each other over the referendum and the issues involved. I have seen ignorance and fear. I am also happy to have seen those who have read every possible thing they could to make a decision they were comfortable with. Informed decisions – whichever way their vote went. I have seen those who chose to abstain because they really don’t know enough to make an informed decision.

Today the pound’s value has plummeted, the Euro has declined against the dollar. Stock markets across Europe are falling. Will there be a recession in Britain? Across Europe? Will the divorce be a messy one, or a friendly civilised affair?

The British PM has resigned and there is a motion of no confidence agains the opposition leader. Immediate political turmoil. Will Boris Johnson become the future prime minister of Britain?

Will other EU countries call for a referendum on their EU membership too? Geert Wilders (yes, that man again) has already staked his claim for one. (Note that he does not have parliamentary backing so no need for alarm as yet). The far right in France is also making noise for a referendum. Far right. Europe. Is that really where we are heading? I seriously hope we have learned that lesson by now.

What is also evident is that the United Kingdom is one of divisions. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, England and Wales voted out. I saw someone thinking aloud on social media that this may well be the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom. It’s anyone’s guess where it all goes from here.

“For one thing, there is now a genuine question over the shape of this kingdom. Scotland (like London) voted to remain inside the European Union. Every one of its political parties (bar Ukip) urged a remain vote. Yet now Scotland is set to be dragged out of the EU, against its collective will.” The Guardian

Sure, things will settle down. Things will balance themselves out. It will take years but there will be a road forward from here. Britain will carry on, with its stiff upper lip it will survive. Will it be better? That’s a question for the future. A question we will have to ask our children. The only certain thing is that things will be different.

What won’t change in the future is my sudden loss of identity. My teenage self studied European Studies at university. I opted to learn European languages. I chose to exercise my right of movement and make another EU country my home. My husband works for an EU body. I will lose my EU citizenship but my life remains in the Netherlands.

My two youngest sons are clad in their Dutch football shirts today and a Dutch friend asked if that was me making a statement. It wasn’t, it was pure coincidence – they chose their tops themselves today as they do every day. But she did get goosebumps from my reaction to the Brexit result.

Today I am feeling rootless. I am feeling a lot less enthusiastic about being British than I was yesterday. I plan to give myself time for a ‘period of mourning’, to wrap my head around this momentous decision that my countrymen have made. Meanwhile, I am planning ahead. I know for sure I am not the only Brit in the Netherlands today looking at the option of obtaining a Dutch passport. (There’s a great article about the consequences for Brits living in the Netherlands here if you are worried about what Brexit will mean for you in the future.)

I’ve talked before about how I feel like I am living life in the middle – not quite Dutch but no longer wholly British. Today I am being pushed out of that void. Today I realise just how European I feel.

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18 thoughts on “Being a British Expat In the Wake of Brexit”

  1. I think a period of mourning is a good way to put it. I need to step back and let the results settle. I am struggling as although 90% of people on my FB timeline are shocked and devastated, a few voted to leave and I can't think of anything to say to them that wouldn't be anger. So probably best to say nothing at all. I also feel very helpless – I didn't want this referendum, I don't think it was the right thing to do and I don't think we had enough facts to be able to sensibly vote. I would have been a lot more comfortable with a 65% majority needed. This has divided the country in a terrible way and it will take a long time to put back together.

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  2. This definitely resonated with me especially the ending .. there should have been parameters set in advance that a more than majority was required .. I guess we have to see what happens once the dust settles a little..

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  3. Shocked is definitive how I was this morning too, and I feel somehow less british today. I think as expats we are more global citizens with a deeper understanding that together we are all stronger.

    This feels like a step backwards and the negativity and xenophobia that came out in the campaign have left a foul taste.

    Thanks for expressing these views. Here in Greece interestingly the press are supporting the exit vote but they have their own reasons for wanting out of the EU!

    It's going to be interesting to see what happens next and the effects it will have on so many british expats in Rutland European expats in Britain

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  4. we're not feeling great here in Berlin either. As an Australian I can't vote and my english husband's proxy vote was thwarted by bad storms which meant his friend couldnt get to the polling place. We are very disappointed.

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  5. I'm an American living abroad and I don't feel very American given the political climate. This is a hard time of political uncertainty for those who see the benefits of globalization and mobility.

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  6. Thanks for sharing your heartfelt feelings on this. As an American living in Australia, I haven't felt I have the right to comment upon the vote one way or the other, but it's been enlightening to read and learn how it is impacting so many people. I don't think many people saw the shock of this coming. I hope things settle peacefully and with some more thought put into the way forward.

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  7. It's so confusing and shocking isnt it? Only time will tell how this situation will manifest itself but I'm just sad that a large number of British people opted out of cooperating closely with their European neighbours. I hope there is some more certainty soon but I think this is going to be an ongoing challenge for many years to come. Certainly the chatter has not subsided in London. It's all anyone talks about. And rightly so.

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  8. “Today I am feeling rootless. I am feeling a lot less enthusiastic about being British than I was yesterday”

    That is how I feel too. I could vote, and I did but I think it was wrong that others, like you could not and even more wrong that the referendum happened at all. Far too many people put a cross in a box based on half truths, misinformation and outright lies and the UK will have to deal with the fallout from this for years to come … and I am so unsure what the future holds for my boys.

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