EU citizens living in UK voice growing concern as Brexit approaches

EU citizens living and working in the UK have told of their "fears and concerns” about the impact Britain’s looming exit from the bloc will have on their lives and legal status.
credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

07 Jan 2020

A group of Europeans who have settled in the UK, some for many years, have described the UK’s exit on 31 January as a “big mistake” and spoke of the effect that it has already had on them.

They include Lina Tsvetlina, a 41-year-old from Bulgaria, who started a successful cleaning business after moving to settle in London.

She said the uncertainty about her legal status after the UK withdrawal had adversely affected her health, resulting in “anxiety attacks.”


“I came to the UK due to lack of job opportunities in Drobich and the country has given me more than my own country,” she said, adding, “But I fear for my future and the uncertainty in my life.”

Another EU citizen in the UK, Maja Smiejkowska, from Gdynia in Poland, has lived in London for 14 years and says Brexit “is a big mistake that will be regretted in the future.”

Maja, 34, said, “I feel that the atmosphere in the UK has changed since the referendum and the majority of my European friends have left already.”

The two are among several EU citizens in the UK who say that freedom of movement gave them the chance to move to the UK to live and work.

“I feel that the atmosphere in the UK has changed since the referendum and the majority of my European friends have left already” Maja Smiejkowska

Another, Natalie Zimmerman, 31, from Munich, works as a scientist in the biomedical field and moved to the UK three years ago.

She said, “Brexit has been a big shock for me. I had just started to settle in, found new friends and started to enjoy living in the country.”

“It did not only affect me on a personal level but also my working environment. In our research department we are highly trained and specialised and half of my colleagues are not British but from other European countries.”

“I am worried but hope for the best for this lovely country and its people.”

Axelle Privat, 27, from the Caribbean island of Martinique, works as a financial controller for a French bank in the City of London.

She said, “There are a lot of negative consequences: companies have already moved their headquarters and some people have been laid off.”

“I hope they will find the best agreement and it will not take a visa for the Europeans, like me, to work in the UK.”

“There are a lot of negative consequences: companies have already moved their headquarters and some people have been laid off” Axelle Privat

Lourdes Gonzalo, 41, from Madrid, has worked in the UK for seven years specialising in artworks.

She said, “It annoys me that I will have to waste my time applying for passport papers while I could be painting and developing my skills. The trust on UK developments are on a thin line.”

It is not only EU citizens in the UK who fear their legal position will change for the worse after the UK exit. The estimated 1.5m Britons in European countries feel the same, according to Michaela Benson, a London-based researcher.

She has interviewed numerous people from the UK who moved to live and work in France and says the impact that the UK exit will have on such people is the “lesser-known story” of Brexit.

She said, “The privileges previously held by these British people have been variously refracted over the course of the Brexit negotiations.”

Benson told this website that Brexit is likely to have an “emotional and material” impact on their lives.

In an attempt to allay such fears, a UK government source said that in any eventuality, EU nationals will be able to enter and remain in the UK to live and work freely during a transition period which will immediately follow the date that the UK leaves the EU and “is due to end on 31 December 2020 at the earliest.”

“EU nationals living in the UK by the date of withdrawal - 31 January - will need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme if they wish to remain in the UK beyond 31 December 2020. Applications must be submitted by 31 December 2020, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, or by 30 June 2021, if a deal is agreed.

The source added, “In a no-deal Brexit, EU nationals who wish to enter the UK after the date of withdrawal to live, work and/or study will still be able to do so without restriction until 31 December 2020.”

Meanwhile, EU Member States have prepared or adopted national contingency measures to ensure that UK nationals and their non-EU family members could remain legally resident in the immediate period after a no-deal withdrawal.

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