As the formal process of removing Britain from the European Union gets underway this week, two parallel surveys highlighting expatriate concerns show consensus between respondents regardless of their nationality and whether they are living in the UK or in the remainder of the EU.
Overall, 80% of the 1,900 respondents in the surveys conducted by the interactive platform Expat.com agreed that Brexit posed “a threat” for the UK.
When asked if Brexit had affected their daily life, 38% of British expatriates said it had already had a “significant” impact, while 22% said that so far it had made only a “slight” change.
The nature of the questions in the surveys allowed respondents to express emotions. According to researchers, “an alarming number” acknowledged that the decision to leave the EU was impacting on their mental health.
Respondents spoke of stress and depression due to the unpredictable nature of the Brexit negotiations, and anxiety over how the outcome may affect their careers and the education of their children.
Around 12% of expatriates living in the UK reported experiencing or witnessing some form of racism. A further 8% revealed that they now feel unwelcome as a result of the ‘leave’ referendum.
“Some people make nasty comments about me as an immigrant, accusing me of taking a job from the British,” said one respondent.
“I had my car vandalised six times in the months before the vote. I was fired from my job afterwards,” said another.
“They see us as second-class citizens,” insisted a futher EU national.
Some Britons abroad spoke of a change of attitude towards them, as well as a sense of embarrassment and fear over “rising nationalism in the UK.”
Beyond the Expat.com survey, British government officials say they do not expect the status of expatriates to change during the negotiations over the next two years.
But Prime Minister Theresa May has made it clear that any long-term guarantees to EU nationals in Britain will depend on reciprocal arrangements with the EU member states.
There is much talk of possible complex deals but as of now no one knows if the negotiations will result in any sort of deal at all.
Former Portuguese prime minister and the previous president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso for one has warned that Brexit is on course to fail unless both Britain and the EU negotiate constructively and are willing to compromise.
Of the four million expatriates involved, it has to be said that the Brits in Portugal and Portuguese in the UK would seem to be less vulnerable than most of the others.
Despite soothing words recently from British and Portuguese officials, there are many worrying uncertainties, though it is hoped that the centuries of close alliance between Portugal and Britain will come into play in the event of a critical breakdown in the Brexit deliberations.