Dismayed by Brexit and London’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic, UK expats say they feel ‘deep, deep shame’ about their home country

UK expats living in EU nations – frustrated by Brexit – have grown so disenchanted with their native country that some are even “embarrassed to be British,” a new academic study has shown.

The survey, which was released on Wednesday and conducted by Lancaster and Birmingham universities, revealed that Brits living throughout the continent have been alienated by their home country’s breakaway from the EU, among other factors. “The long tale of Brexit is evident in its continuing impacts both on the way they live their lives and in its lasting significance for their sense of identity and belonging,” said study co-leader Michaela Benson, a sociology professor at Lancaster University.

In fact, survey respondents showed far more “emotional attachment” to their country of residence and the EU than to the UK. About 75% said they are either “extremely” or “very” attached to the EU, while 59% had such feelings for their country of residence. Only about 30% expressed strong attachment to the UK, including around 7% who said they were “extremely” attached to their country of origin.

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Brexit had a lot to do with the estrangement, the study showed. About 80% of expats said the UK’s exit from the EU had affected their feelings toward their home country “a great deal” or “a lot.” Brexit strongly affected past or future migration plans for 41% of respondents. A further 17% said their plans were affected at least moderately by the UK’s handling of Covid-19, which respondents described with such terms as “shambolic,” “mixed messaging” and “s**t show.”

Comments were similarly colorful on expats’ feelings toward the post-Brexit UK, including “deep, deep shame” and “embarrassed to be British.” An expat living in Denmark said, “Since Brexit, I am disappointed in the UK. I am worried and no longer feel like I have the same affinity for the country. It’s a shame because I love home, but the country feels so polarized.”

A British woman living in Austria also was troubled, saying, “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country from how I left it. So much so I feel more connected with my second nationality…”

It’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK and what continues to happen. It’s like watching a house on fire from afar.

Benson said the study had found a “quite pronounced expression of European identity” among the expats. About two-thirds of respondents said they had changed their status since 2016, acquiring citizenship or residency, and most have been living abroad for at least five years. The vast majority (73%) plan to settle permanently in their current place of residence.


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The study struck a nerve with Brits back at home. The Daily Express newspaper did a quick survey in response on Wednesday and Thursday, asking readers whether they were “embarrassed to be British.” With more than 11,000 responses recorded, 87% said “No,” and many expressed anger at the disgruntled expats. “Only remainers are embarrassed to be British,” one reader said. “I’m proud to be English first and British second, but most of all, I’m proud to be a Brexiter.”

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