OPINION: The post-Brexit cabinet reshuffle does little to reassure Brits in Europe

Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain, studies the spring-clean in Westminster and asks whether Boris Johnson's new cabinet is really intent on healing divisions for post-Brexit Britons.

OPINION: The post-Brexit cabinet reshuffle does little to reassure Brits in Europe
PM Boris Johnson chairs the first cabinet meeting after the reshuffle.Matt Dunham/Pool/AFP

British and Spanish residents here in Spain have been spotted eating and drinking outdoors over the last few days, thanks to the atypical spring weather we have been experiencing. Admittedly, the Spanish are still wearing their coats and boots, while the Brits are in short sleeves and even, in some cases, in shorts!

The romance of St. Valentine’s Day has been and gone, though bunches of flowers are still on display in many homes. Now we can look forward to carnival season. Perhaps, if this clement weather holds, those scantily-clad women dressed in little more than bikinis and feathers, will not be suffering such a chill this year.

Whilst we have been making the most of the Spanish weather, back in the UK, despite the cold, there has been some rather drastic spring-cleaning in Westminster.

On Thursday February 13th, Boris Johnson, with more than a little help from Dominic Cummings, reshuffled his cabinet. There had been rumours beforehand that a major cull was expected, with journalists suggesting we could expect a Valentine’s Day massacre, especially of female cabinet members.

Casualties on the day included Andrea Leadsom, Theresa Villiers, Esther McVey and Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox.

The new Attorney General is Suella Braverman – a staunch Brexiter who has been critical of the role the judiciary played in the Brexit journey. Her appointment has been widely criticised, especially on social media. However, there’s little doubt that her plan to ‘take back control’ from the courts will be popular with many staunch leavers.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the resignation of Chancellor Sajid Javid. Expected to stay in post, he chose to step down when conditions attached to him keeping his job became clear – namely that he must sack all his advisors and see them replaced by Downing St. appointments. Javid said, “no self-respecting minister” could accept the prime minister’s terms.

Despite Javid’s principled stand, no doubt his resignation will have ensured that those advisors he aimed to protect will also now be out on their ears.

The speed with which Javid was replaced by the relatively unknown and inexperienced Rishi Sunak, had many pundits suggesting this was all part of the Cummings plan. With Sunak now “in charge” at the Treasury, it would appear that Downing Street has effectively made yet another power grab, this time on the Treasury.

I won’t bother to name the new cabinet faces as I suspect that, like any but the most avid followers of UK politics, those names won’t mean anything to anyone. I believe there is no truth to the rumour that at the first meeting of the new cabinet on Friday, all were asked to wear name tags to identify themselves to each other, and perhaps to the prime minister.

It seems clear that the aim of the cabinet reshuffle is for the prime minister to surround himself with pliable, inexperienced colleagues who will fawn and agree – a gallery of yes-men and yes-women.

Johnson has never been one to appreciate a variety of views, and his attitude towards his colleagues seems akin to his attitude to the media. Don’t let them in the room if they are going to challenge, disagree or criticise. How very Trumpian.

One face you may well remember, who is now back in the cabinet fold, is Stephen Barclay – now in a new role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Barclay was formerly head of the now defunct DExEU – the Department for Exiting the European Union. In theory, he therefore knows more about the Brexit negotiations than most. I did say, in theory!

What the make-up of the new cabinet will mean with regards to the ongoing negotiations or the rights of British citizens in Europe is, at this stage, anyone’s guess. Regardless of the personalities though, we must remain vigilant and continue to hold our government to account. They seem determined to proceed with their reckless plans regardless, and with as little scrutiny as possible.

The knowledge that certain rights are protected thanks to the Withdrawal Agreement is a great relief to many, even if the pain of leaving the EU still hangs very heavily. We must not let our government, or our parliament forget there are still so many of our rights at risk.

I had hoped that, in the spirit of healing the divisions, the cabinet reshuffle would have resulted in a more representative range of opinions and positions. The prime minister is quick to call on the public to kiss and make up and put the damage and division of the last four years behind us.

Maybe we will find it easier to do so when we see evidence of an example being set by those that supposedly speak for us.

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.