Travelling across Europe provides the opportunity to quiz Germans, Swedes, French, Spanish and UK nationals living or travelling abroad about their attitude to the UK and its departure from the EU.
In a nutshell, the more or less unanimous view, including from a visiting Japanese lady, is most aptly put by German-born Constanze: “We have other things to think about now. So Brexit isn’t something we have much of an opinion on.”
“That said,” continues Constanze, “Europeans think Brexit was totally stupid. It is very arrogant of the UK to think they can be a serious power on their own outside the EU, when Africa and Asia are also forming economic and political blocs. You have just made yourselves small and insignificant.”
Has Brexit affected them?
Parisian economist John confesses: “To be honest, I do not really follow Brexit and I don’t really care about the topic in the sense that it doesn’t affect me much day to day.” He goes on to say that Brexit does not come up in French politics. Then caveats that with: “Apart maybe from slight problems with fishing and more importantly, though this was also before Brexit, the conflict over small boat migrants.”
French-born Elisabeth concurs, “Quite honestly I have not, as a retired person in France, noticed any change that affects me.”
Chris, a UK national who has lived in France for many decades, says: “The most important change for me is the effect of the exchange rate on my UK savings and retirement pension. It seems that the main sterling drop was at about the time of the Brexit referendum rather than the Brexit itself.”
He continues: “That said, Brexit hasn’t affected us much although sending stuff between the two countries is more complicated.”
Was Brexit a factor in his decision to adopt French nationality?
“Yes and no. I had intended to take French nationality for many years. It simplifies things but I have always put it off because of the paperwork involved. With Brexit it was either that or a “carte de séjour” residence permit which also requires a lot of paperwork. The choice was evident.”
Chris explains, “In France you can have dual nationality (although maybe not in all countries), so there are many advantages in taking your local nationality and, as far as I can see, few disadvantages.”
What do Europeans feel they have lost?
Christina from Sweden pointed out that the UK had often shared the same views as the Swedes. “So we miss the UK support in negotiations.”
She adds: “It’s hard for Swedish students. Given they learn English, the natural place for them to study, and their preferred choice, was the UK. But not now.”
Elisabeth agrees, “Yes, Brexit affects French students who want to learn English through Erasmus – they can’t do it any more. For commercial issues, it is difficult. France used to export a lot to the UK, they don’t any more.” She pauses, “And sharing the English Channel seems complicated for fishermen!”
“I wonder if people in UK really still have the feeling that it is better outside the EU?” questions Constanze. “What happened, for example, to the promise that there will be a lot of money given to the health services after Brexit? For us in Germany, it seems that more people lost many things because of Brexit rather than gaining.”
Scottish born Lorraine sighs “In the Brexit referendum Scots voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. Day to day Scots feel the financial impact of Brexit. Lack of hospitality staff. Animal medical passports costing £300 every trip. No reciprocal health care. Even the wait at Edinburgh passport control sets the Scots’ collective blood pressure up. And it goes on – soon we will have to buy an ETIAS authorisation to enter the EU!”
“Thankfully the Scottish Government actively put in place policies to negate Conservative Westminster policies,” Lorraine adds. “Free prescriptions, no tuition fees, a ‘rape clause’ to escape the two-child benefit cap, plus Scots have a nationalised rail service and treat addiction as a healthcare issue.”
A Japanese view
And what of the Japanese perspective? Junko, who is visiting Europe, says: “Many Japanese firms like Honda have moved out of the UK to Düsseldorf or Frankfurt.” This is confirmed by Constanze. “Yes, a lot of Japanese are in Frankfurt and Germany.”
Junko made this pertinent observation: “What is lost with Brexit, is there is no strong country to temper the French / German axis. The UK played this role.”
Stefan agreed. “The Nordic countries feel they have lost a champion.”