How Brexit affects the lives of UU Brits

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Brexit dominated the news for a long time until it was overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic. But for the Brits working or studying at Utrecht University, Brexit remained an ever-present part of their lives. Since December 31, they are no longer EU citizens.

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In 2019, DUB interviewed Brits in Utrecht about their country’s then-upcoming exit from the European Union, assuming that the break-up would take a few months at most, deal or no deal. In the end, it took over a year and a half before Brussels and London finally signed a deal that was made in the nick of time.

Now that Brexit’s a fact, its impact on the daily lives of around 1,500 Brits living, working, teaching, or studying in Utrecht is starting to take shape. How have their lives changed, now that they are no longer Europeans? We asked a few UU Brits.

Waiting game
For Karis, Research Assistant at Utrecht University, it feels as though little has changed. “The Covid issues have really overtaken the Brexit stress”, she says. “For a long time, we were afraid of a ‘hard Brexit’, without any agreements being made, but we quickly reached a point where we just accepted it and waited”. The difference between pre-Brexit and post-Brexit is in the little things, Karis explains. “I would like to do a PhD after my Master’s. What does Brexit mean for me in that regard? That’s still unclear. Our holiday plans will likely change as well”. Brits living in the Netherlands had to apply for a residence permit in order to continue residing, studying, or working here. The process went smoothly for Karis: “I just had to get a new driver’s license, but that was pretty simple”.

First time voting for the Dutch government
For Professor of Petrology Paul Mason, Brexit was reason enough to say goodbye to his British passport: he is now a Dutchman. Mason has been living in the Netherlands for 23 years, but hadn’t taken that step yet. After spending a lot of time, money, and effort on language and integration courses, he received his Dutch passport on December 18, 2019, in a small ceremony at De Bilt's town hall. The party to celebrate his new nationality was cancelled due to corona.

His new Dutch passport means that he is allowed to vote for the first time in the parliamentary elections, which are set to take place next week. Mason is really looking forward to that. The bureaucracies surrounding his naturalisation made for an odd situation in his family: “I had to relinquish my British citizenship. My daughter also became Dutch, but she is still allowed to keep her British passport. My son, however, can’t become Dutch, because he hasn’t lived in the Netherlands for five consecutive years yet”, he explains. “He wants to continue his studies in Utrecht. Fortunately, that is possible”.

Paul’s Dutch citizenship will have consequences when he travels back to his motherland. “Now, if I go back to the United Kingdom, I can only stay there for 90 consecutive days. In theory, that’s enough, but it’s still a barrier between me and my parents, brother, and sister, who still live in England”.

Left as a European, returned as a Brit
Joshua will graduate this year. He would like to continue his studies in Utrecht by pursuing a PhD. Last year, when he visited Great Britain for Christmas, he left the Netherlands as a European citizen and came back as a non-European citizen. “The timing was very odd”, Joshua finds. “We were at home with my family, when it was announced that a deal would happen sometime that week”. He says not a lot has changed at the border. “I brought my passport, but also brought my residence permit and a negative PCR test, although they didn’t check the latter. It’s weird to see how something can change randomly like that. It’s a strange feeling to have to prove things at the border. Besides, we now have to check what we’re allowed to bring. I brought some products from back home, and now wonder if they were still allowed”.

Another thing that's changed is that he now has to pay import taxes if he orders things from the United Kingdom. It’s also unclear what will happen to his phone numbers and bank accounts. “My bank didn't wonder at all what would change for me as a Brit living in the EU, so that’s still a little uncertain”.

Still, Joshua thinks that Brits in the Netherlands got off relatively easy. “We’ve got the best of both worlds. With my Dutch residence permit, I can travel across all Europe – even if, officially, I’m not allowed to stay in European countries for more than 90 days”. But that doesn't mean Brexit does not limit his freedom of movement at all. “I can live, work, and study in the Netherlands for the next five years, but if I were to move to, say, Belgium or France, I would lose that right. That does jeopardise some dreams”, he laments.

German roots
Dom Weinberg, PhD candidate at the Youth Department of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, stayed in the Netherlands during the Christmas holidays, when Brexit went into effect. When his family went to send him a care package, they were in for a nasty surprise: a customs invoice of 120 euros.

Brexit has also changed the way Weinberg thinks about the future. “Because of Brexit, my father decided to investigate what his German-Jewish heirtage could do for us. My grandfather fled Germany before World War II and ended up emigrating to England. Thanks to his German roots, my father and his children are eligible for German citizenship. To be honest, I don’t feel German all of the sudden”, he laughs. “But a German passport is convenient if I ever want to live elsewhere in Europe at some point. My partner really loves France”, he admits. “Now that I'm German, it’s relatively easy to move to Italy or France with her. I’m lucky in this regard: many Brits took this right for granted for a long time”.

Competition
Thanks to the combination of Covid and Brexit, Emmeline had a hellish trip back to the Netherlands. “My flight was cancelled, so I had to take an 11-hour detour for a PCR test”, she sighs. “Then, I took the Eurostar back to the Netherlands”. She was worried about stamping her passport, because that could conflict with her residence permit. “Thankfully, that went fine. But I do travel back to the UK sometimes. Will my passport be full much sooner now?”

She is worried about her opportunities as a British person looking for work in the Dutch labour market. “I graduated at the end of February, and I would like to stay here, but I’m scared of the competition with EU citizens. Will they be hired before me?”

Emmeline also to get a residence permit to stay in the Netherlands. To her, that was a wake-up call. “It’s only recently that I’ve realised Brexit isn’t just some paperwork I have to fill out now, it’s something I have to take into account the rest of my life. I’ll always need to be up to date with the latest laws. It’s a lot of work, but at least I have that choice. Many British young people who might perhaps have wanted to go to the EU at some point can’t say the same. That’s something the young people who voted in favour of Brexit are realising now”.

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