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BREXIT

‘Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed’ – How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

A new in-depth survey on British nationals living in the EU has revealed the impact that Brexit has had upon their lives, and their attitudes to their country of origin.

'Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed' - How Brits in the EU feel about the UK
Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP

The study, conducted by academics at Lancaster and Birmingham universities, provides a snapshot of how Brits in the EU live – their age, family, work and education – and how they feel about the UK in the six years since the Brexit vote.

Unsurprisingly, it revealed that Brexit has had a major practical impact on the lives of Brits living in the EU – who are now subject to third-country rules and require residency cards or visas and face restrictions on voting and onward movement within the EU.

But the survey’s 1,328 respondents were also asked about their emotions towards the country of their birth.

Eighty percent of respondents said it had changed their feelings towards the UK.

A British woman living in Norway said she felt: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British, ashamed that I didn’t try hard enough, or appreciate my EU citizenship.”

“Since Brexit I am disappointed in the UK. I am worried, and no longer feel like I have the same affinity for the country. It’s a shame because I love ‘home’ but the country feels so polarised,” added a British woman in her 30s living in Denmark.

An Austrian resident with dual British-Irish nationality said: “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country from how I left it.

“So much so I feel more connected with my second nationality (Irish) despite the fact I never grew up in Ireland. It’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK and what continues to happen. It’s like watching a house on fire from afar.”

The experience of living abroad during the pandemic also affected people’s feelings towards the UK, with 43 percent of people saying the UK’s handling of the Covid crisis affected their feelings towards the county.

A British woman in her 50s living in Spain said: “It was shambolic. Too late, too little, mixed messaging, lack of seriousness. So many deaths after what should have been a head start.”

A British man living in Greece described it simply as “a shit show”.

In addition to the Brexit effect, the survey also provided interesting and detailed data on the lives and profiles of Brits who live in the EU;

  • 69 percent had degree-level education
  • 77 percent worked in a professional or managerial role
  • 53 percent are of working age
  • 59 percent have been living in their country of residence for more than five years
  • 78 percent said it was very unlikely that they would move countries in the next five years 
  • The most common reasons for moving country were retirement (40 percent), family reasons (35 percent) and work (30 percent)

Almost all respondents said that Brexit had impacted their lives, with the loss of freedom of movement being the most common effect mentioned.

One man said: “My original plan (pre-2016) was to move to France on retirement, due in 2026. Brexit caused me to move sooner, in order to retain my European citizenship rights. The pandemic helped (indirectly) in that I got locked down in France in 2020, which enabled me to earn residence under the pre-Brexit rules. I had been talking to my employer about doing something similar before the pandemic broke.”

“I moved to France in 2020 in order to protect my right to live and work in France post-Brexit. My migration is 100 percent a result of Brexit,” said one American-British dual national.

Other respondents talked about the post-Brexit admin necessary to gain residency status in their country, financial losses due to the weakening of the pound against the euro and the loss on onward freedom of movement – meaning that Brits resident in one EU country no longer have the right to move to another.

The report also highlighted that only 60 percent of respondents had changed their legal status by security residency since Brexit.

For some Brits in the EU this is not necessary if they already have citizenship of their country of residence (or another EU country such as Ireland) but the report’s author highlighted that: “It may also offer an early indicator that within this population there are some who may find themselves without legal residence status, with consequences in the future for their right to residence, and access to healthcare, welfare and work (among other services).”

READ ALSO What to do if you have missed the Brexit deadline in France 

In total 42 percent of respondents were completely disenfranchised – the 15-year rule means they can no longer vote in the UK, while the loss of EU citizenship means that they cannot vote in European or local elections in their country of residence.

The British government has recently announced the ending of the 15-year rule, giving voting rights to all UK nationals, no matter how long they live outside the UK. 

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BRITS IN FRANCE

Exchange rate: What are your options if you live in France but have income in pound sterling?

The value of the British pound has fallen steeply against the dollar in recent days and also against the Euro, so what should you do if you live in France but have income - such as a pension, rental income or a salary - in pound sterling?

Exchange rate: What are your options if you live in France but have income in pound sterling?

Exchange rates might sound like a spectacularly dull topic, but if you live in France (where, naturally, your day-to-day living expenses are paid in Euros) but have income from the UK in pounds, then the movement of the international currency markets will have a major impact on the money that ends up in your pocket.

And this is far from an uncommon situation – France is a popular retirement destination for Brits, who will usually be receiving a British pension paid in pounds.

Non-retirees might be still working for companies in the UK, with a salary in pounds, while others have income from rental properties or investments.

So a big loss in the value of the pound against the Euro has a major impact on Brits in France, many of whom – particularly pensioners – are already living on low incomes. 

The most recent fall in the value of the pound was sparked by the UK government’s new mini budget (we’re far from experts on economics, but the reaction from most economists seems to be that the budget is deranged) and has already seen a recovery. 

The pound-euro exchange rate over the last month. Chart: xe.com

But while this one-time fall is spectacular, it’s also part of a longer term trend in the fall of the value of the pound, especially since Brexit, that has seen some pensioners lose a big chunk of their income.

The pound-euro exchange rate over the last 10 years. Graph: xe.com

So if you have income in pounds, what are your options?

Euro income – obviously this isn’t an option for everyone, especially pensioners, but the best way to protect against currency exchange shocks is to make sure that you’re paid in the same currency that you spend in.

The advantage of the euro is that you’re not limited to finding work only in France, but could work in any EU country – including the anglophone ones like Ireland – and get your salary in euros.

What are the rules for foreigners working remotely from France?

Depending on your employer, it might also be possible for you to ask to bill in euros. 

Work in France – if you’re currently not working, then an obvious option is to take up some work in France – although if you are in France on a visa, you need to check whether your visa allows you to work.

Exchange rate – if your income can only be paid in pounds, it’s crucial to ensure that you get the best exchange rate possible and that you don’t waste money on international transfer fees.

The best options here are online banks or money transfer services, which compete on the rates that they offer, so usually have the most advantageous rate.

Some online banks also have the option to set up accounts in both pounds and Euros, so that you can receive money in pounds and spend it in Euros without having to make bank transfers, which can attract fees.

We spoke to a financial expert who explains the best options HERE.

Financial help – the French state offers fairly significant financial aid to people on low incomes, but while this generally comes automatically to French families, sometimes newcomers can slip through the net, especially pensioners who have never worked in France.

This autumn, for example, is a new €100-€200 chèque energie (financial grant) to help low-income households deal with the rising cost of energy bills.

In addition to one-off payments like this, you may also be entitled to top-up benefits or aid with making your home more energy efficient.

You can find out more HERE, and if you think you are eligible you can visit your local CAF office to ask how to apply.  

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