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Real Lives, Real Issues #10 - EU Nationals in the UK

EU nationals represent 3.2 million of the UK’s 65 million population, which is around 5%. However, they make up almost 7% of the workforce.

In the pre-referendum debate, their fate was barely on the agenda. But now, a year later, they’ve been offered some assurances by the government. What do these people think about Brexit, the UK and the EU? How are their experiences and attitudes going to shape the UK economy? How should brands and employers react?

London alone is home to over one million EU nationals, so that is where we conducted our research with Nuno from Portugal, Sophie from Denmark, Anna from Poland and Maria from Greece.

The aftermath

The vast majority of EU nationals could not vote in the referendum and many have been left feeling helpless and even worried about their future as a result.

Being British, Buying British

There’s no suggestion that British goods are becoming less popular among EU nationals. They still like produce from their home countries, but their shopping habits have not changed. The increase in the number of brands flying the Union flag has been noted, but it was noted well before the referendum. Speaking to our group, it is apparent that there is no particular issue with it; EU nationals expect British brands to be proud of being British.

Impact so far

Price rises have already been noticed, particularly through their impact on the weekly grocery budget. The group note that some of their non-British colleagues have begun to return to their home countries. If not the sole cause, the referendum has certainly hastened their departure.

Reassurance required

EU national employees are still looking for reassurance that they are of value to the UK. They look to their employers to reassure them and ultimately protect them from potential restrictions concerning freedom of movement.

EU nationals feel like they are in limbo. They hope that there won’t be much impact on their lives in the UK. However, they fear restrictions on their ability to travel, to apply for jobs or to live where they choose.

Sense of identity

EU Nationals do not feel British and it is important to note that even before the referendum, they never really did. It is not their number one concern however; post-referendum, they feel less welcome and integrated than before. People who have been in the UK for many years have felt a real impact on their sense of identity. They do not feel British yet they are now tourists in their countries of origin.

Nevertheless, some have investigated applying for permanent residency or even citizenship, but have found the process overwhelming and off-putting. For now, most feel it is easier to sit and wait.

London life

Like Britons, many EU nationals have been attracted to London due to its culture and the opportunities it provides. They have since come to love its multi-culturalism and international feel and it is somewhere they are proud to call home. It is where they have settled, where they are raising families.

So what does this mean for you?

  • Look after your EU-national employees; they are concerned about their futures. What assurances can you provide? What influence on government can you have?
  • Do not be afraid to be British. Provenance, ethical supply chains and lowering food miles are more important than asserting national identity through the shopping basket.
  • Be pragmatic about Brexit. Be neutral. Be optimistic.
  • Go out of your way to welcome European customers. They need some love!