OPINION: Brexit will be a painful day, but it’s not done and nor are we

Since June 2016, fighting Brexit from her adopted country of Spain has been Sue Wilson's passion and obsession. So how does she feel as Brexit day approaches?

OPINION: Brexit will be a painful day, but it's not done and nor are we
The British Union Jack will only fly outside the European Parliament in Brussels until January 31st. Photo: AFP

As Brexit has occupied my thoughts and actions for so long, I can barely remember what life was like pre-referendum.

Brexit has changed me in ways I never imagined. It has revealed character traits I never knew existed, not all of them positive!  Who knew I could become so angry or argumentative? I certainly wasn’t beforehand.

On the positive side, I’ve learned many new skills and made great new friends. For that, I shall always grudgingly be grateful to Brexit, although this benefit cannot compensate for our losses.

Unsurprisingly, I’m frequently asked how I feel now that Brexit is inevitable, and how I will spend Brexit Day. Both questions are difficult to answer.

How I’m feeling is a moveable feast. The answer I gave yesterday won’t be the same answer I give tomorrow or the next day. Like so many Remainers, our feelings switch from anger to despair, from grief to incredulity, from shock to acceptance.

We’ve processed a vast range of emotions – first when the referendum result was announced, then through the negotiations. May’s ill-advised election gave us hope and the prospect of a People’s Vote and changes in public opinion made many of us believers. When Johnson finally succeeded in bullying the opposition parties into an election, we still believed Brexit could be averted.

Sadly, we were wrong, and on a monumental scale.


Photo: AFP

Having been glued to the media for so long, I found myself avoiding the news for days after the election. I couldn’t bear hearing the prime minister gloat. I still can’t, although I am devouring the newspapers again.

One significant difference, today, is that I’ve finally reached the acceptance stage of grieving. That brings other mixed feelings – for example, of failure and guilt. I was convinced for so long that we could change the Brexit trajectory that I feel I’ve let people down. No matter how hard I continue to fight to mitigate Brexit’s damage, I will always think I raised the hopes of many people, only for them to be cruelly dashed. I remind myself that I acted in good faith, said what I wholeheartedly believed to be true, and did all that was possible. I can be proud of that, at least.

While I may accept that Brexit is happening, I will never accept or forgive the way it was achieved. From the outright lies of the Leave campaign, the fraudulent referendum, and more of the same during the recent election, the “winners” have shamed British democracy. I don’t blame people who wanted a better life. They were persuaded by false promises of a brighter future. I blame the people who deliberately misled them and offered false hope – a hope that will eventually prove misplaced. Time will help us forget, but it may not help us forgive.

As we gradually come to terms with the post-Brexit landscape, we still don’t know what Brexit will finally look like. Will the government stick to its plans to exit the transition period at the end of 2020, regardless of whether a trade deal has been achieved? It isn’t unusual for the prime minister to say one thing and then do something completely different.

Will the UK remain aligned to EU standards, diverge completely, or opt for something in between? Chancellor Sajid Javid seems as confused on that subject as the rest of us! Perhaps, like me, he’s feeling a wide range of emotions and not always stopping to think before expressing them.

Regardless of how I feel on January 31st, and no matter what the prime minister claims, Brexit will not be done. Brexit will not be removed from our vocabulary or television screens, despite the prime minister’s wishes.

While the Brexiters rub our noses in their victory – with their celebratory bangs, banners and bragging – we Remainers will mourn, mostly in silence.

It will be a painful and difficult day, but Brexit will not be done, and nor will we!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

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Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.