(Editor’s note: Read more about Brexit here in Dispatches’ archives.)
Can you believe it’s been seven years since the United Kingdom made the momentous decision to leave the European Union?
As an expat, once the sheer dread of being made homeless after living in the Netherlands for five years abated and I received my residency card from the Dutch government, everyday life has continued. Of course, we live here at the discretion of our country of residence, and hope that the Dutch government will continue to be understanding of its expat occupants.
Personally however, the very fact that 52 percent of fellow countrymen erroneously voted to leave the EU, based on misinformation and unfulfilled promises, rankles on a daily basis.
Many of us “expats” did not even get a vote in this major decision as we have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years. The current government have promised this will change in 2024 but for the Brexit referendum it was a gut-punch, given that we were some of the people it affected in a very practical sense.
One of the woeful things for me personally has been the sight of my passport being stamped in and out of the EU when I travel. OK, in years gone by this was normal. But the first time I went back to the UK after Brexit had “officially” happened and the customs agent stamped my passport, tears welled up in my eyes.
I no longer felt like a European, but an outsider in the very bloc I live in.
One of the unpleasant things of travel to and from the UK now is the fact that we can no longer zip through the EU line at the airport. Now we must stand with all the other non-EU travelers in that interminable line that once we smirked about. I have heard tell lately that you can use your residency card to enter through the EU portal, but I haven’t tried this yet, for fear of humiliation and the walk of shame to the back of the non-EU line.
The next gut-wrenching experience I have to face is coming up soon … the handing in of my lovely maroon coloured passport for the blue non-EU one. It will be a dark day when I am forced to travel with that.
Visits to the UK
As we have been expats for 23 years now, we are beginning to consider maybe going home at some point in the future? Then our family and friends cry, “Don’t do it! Are you crazy! Why would you choose to live in this damaged country?”
Why indeed? Here in the Netherlands, we have a functioning health system, where as the pandemic, the economy and the loss of “free movement of labour” due to Brexit has hurt the NHS catastrophically. It’s heart breaking to hear the stories on the UK news of patients being failed by the health service and the staff being failed by the government.
Hospitality and retail have also been affected with staff shortages, as many EU countries have, but Brexit has made this situation worse. According to a study by the think tank Centre for European Reform, there are 330,000 fewer workers in the UK due to Brexit.
Food shortages are apparently partly due to the fact that the food producing industry in the UK hasn’t caught up to the demand. This was created by many EU suppliers pulling away due to the endless “red tape” required to import to the UK. Shoppers are seeing empty shelves in some instances in the UK or a hike in prices that is greater than their European peers.
Living here in the Netherlands we have also seen an uptick in prices. But shortages of essentials, such as eggs, tomatoes and peppers as in the UK, is unheard of in a nation that has a well-established food production industry.
Visually the change in the UK, due to the worldwide economic downturn and the lack of workers, due again to Brexit, is to me very obvious.
The UK looks sad.
Towns and villages that once looked tidy and cared for now look unkempt and unloved as the residents struggle with their own hardships, and the lack of staff again, has an impact. Voters for “Leave” are now realizing, maybe, that the UK was kept afloat by those migrant workers they were so keen to oust.
From a business standpoint, whether it be located in the UK or in the EU looking at importing, there is no upside according to my husband who, as a director of a UK company, had to relocate their warehousing to the EU in order to function efficiently. Small businesses are the ones who are suffering most due to the large amount of “hoops to jump through” although even multinational companies, such as Honda, has found the new rules too difficult and has closed its UK factory.
Find more statistics at Statista
Many UK expats feel the same way when asked their opinion on Brexit. They are dismayed that the country chose to leave the EU, bitter that as expats we were unable to vote and saddened at the image their “homeland” is developing around the globe.
When I asked a group of British expats their thoughts on Brexit they did not hold back:
• “I was furious when it was happening. Lost a few friends due to being on opposite sides! I became an Irish National, thanks to my grandad…..Now I feel sorry for my fellow English man, especially the young people.”
• “Many of the people we knew that voted to leave the EU were unfortunately basing their decision on misinformation.”
• “…apart from the obvious problems with Brexit, it is incredible how much it affects things in all kinds of ways, from posting gifts to buying sausages. It is so pervasive! I feel like it is a curse that will last for generations – though I hope that somehow it will be reversed or at least softened somehow.”
• “Brexit was the result of people having no idea of what they voted for and believing barefaced lies from self serving fools like Johnson, Mogg and Farage. Brexit has brought the UK to its knees and it was all self inflicted.”
• “anger is the overriding emotion. That ‘so many were lied to by so few’and has never delivered anything.”
• “I voted to remain just before I moved to the Netherlands. It was always my dream to live a semi-nomadic life around Europe and the dream has been on hold since the Brexit vote.”
• “I think it was a terrible idea for the UK to leave the UK. My business has been impacted as my supplements supplier is based in the UK, and due to delays in customs, it’s risky to ship items to the EU, because I cannot be sure that they are stored correctly for the month that it takes for products to clear customs. My supplier’s business has been impacted heavily.”
• “My kids and I are now going through the naturalisation process here, we will need to surrender our UK citizenship I order to become Dutch (which is heartbreaking and scary). In general, I feel slighted by the UK. And from outside of the UK, it just seems to have been a bad move to Brexit, and all its done is close a lot of doors to beautiful possibilities.”
• “We have had to sell our UK home. The plan was that we would retire back to the UK into that home. However the UK immigration laws have changed such that my Dutch national wife might be refused residence in the UK on grounds of not working!! Despite having lived there for 15 years; being fluently bi-lingual; having 2 dual nationality children; being married to a Brit (me) for >25 years; being owed 15 years of UK Old Aged Pension & having pensions from UK companies.”
Normally, when I write a post, I try to find a balance, highlighting positive and negative aspects of the subject. This time, try as I might to be impartial, I can find no upside so far to this decision. As of this month, according to Statista Research Department, 56 percent of Brits think it was wrong to leave the EU and so, it seems, do many expats.
This final quote from a British expat sums it up succinctly:
“It’s a big pile of poo.”
Photographer/writer Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a long-time expat, she lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past 10 years.
Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.
Contributing to Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.
She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.
She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.