LONDON - Britain is letting European Union citizens stay once the country completes its transition out of the EU at the end of 2020. But some are choosing to leave and move back to the continent.
Hanneke van der Werf is a Dutch herbalist and garden designer living on the border of Wales and England. Britain has been home for more than 25 years, but she is now preparing to leave.
“This country has changed into something unrecognizable. It used to be very liberal, very outward looking, very welcoming and very tolerant,” Werf said. “And I personally was actually attacked the day after the referendum about me not being British, and why I wasn't going, why I was still even there.”
British-born people kept asking her why she had stayed in Britain after the Brexit vote, and those questions hurt.
Considering move to EU country
Van der Werf has decided not to move back to the Netherlands but is contemplating a move to one of the southern EU countries.
Britain officially left the European Union on Jan. 31. It is still obliged to adhere to EU laws through the end of 2020 when the transitional period is over.
Speaking on immigration during the December 2019 campaign, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he could “make sure that numbers come down.”
While he said that British people are “not hostile to immigration at all,” they want their country to be — in his words — “democratically controlled and that’s what Brexit allows us to do.”
Another EU citizen preparing to leave Britain is Carole Convers. As a French student she visited Britain in 1987 and decided to move permanently to the southern English seaside resort of Brighton.
"I'd always seen myself as you know just a normal citizen really, which happened to live in a bit of Europe that wasn’t in the same bit as where I was born,” Convers said. “And that, that feeling went. I went from being a citizen to an uncertain future as a migrant, not knowing what would change for me.”
Many decide to stay
Convers campaigned with The 3 Million, an NGO that lobbies to protect the rights of EU citizens in Britain.
While she initially considered applying for a British passport, she eventually decided against it.
The latest figures from Britain’s home office show more than three million EU citizens have applied to stay in the country. The process is often turning out to be difficult. EU citizens are not given a physical document to prove if their application to stay in the country is successful — and that is causing anxiety among some.
From Brighton to Burgundy
Convers resents having to apply to stay in the country she has been living in for so long.
After 31 years of living in Brighton, Convers has decided to move back to Burgundy, in east-central France at the end of April with her British partner.
“It's all a bit uncertain because we've got accommodation only for the first few months,” Convers said. “And he doesn't speak French, so I'll have to find a job.”
More than three million Europeans had moved from the continent to Britain after it joined the EU in 1973. The welcome appears to have worn off.
Since British voters approved Brexit in 2016, there has been an increase in reports of xenophobia, racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric — often directed at those coming from Poland.
The British Office for National Statistics last year said net migration from the European Union has fallen since 2016. Those numbers are now at their lowest since 2003.