Leaving the UK

It did not take long. Several days into the new, post-Brexit reality, more than a handful of foreign friends have already declared their intention to leave the UK. It’s not just Europeans but also Americans, Canadians, and even Chinese. They all have different reasons for leaving.

Take Jovana, a change consultant who has lived and worked in London for four years. Jovana is German but thought she would stay in the UK. However, after Thursday’s Brexit-vote, things have changed quite dramatically. Although nothing has really changed, from a legal perspective, Jovana wants to leave the UK, as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the year. “If this is the message – that we are no longer welcome here – I don’t want to continue living in the UK”, she explained when I interviewed her on Tuesday.

Jovana is a true believer in the European project and thus the rejection of it by British voters has affected her deeply. “I am perceived as one of the better migrants”, she stated, highlighting the differenciation that is being made between “good immigration” from countries such as France and Germany, and “bad immigration” from Eastern European countries. Jovana is currently searching for jobs in Berlin, one of the cities that might actually benefit from Britain’s vote to Leave.

Another friend of mine, Natalie, hasn’t gotten quite that far. She has lived and studied in the UK as well, founded her company here. Natalie is American and has waited since March for the arrival of her new investor visa. “Since then, I haven’t even been able to go to Paris”, she complained, “I had to submit my passport for this.”

If for any reason, her visa is not prolonged, Natalie already has a Plan B. She plans to move to Amsterdam, to the Netherlands, a city that is, according to her, much more open to young businesses than London with its sky-high rents and lots of economic uncertainty, thanks to the vote for Brexit. In her circle of friends, Natalie is not the only one thinking of leaving the UK: “There are several others who have are mulling over this idea as well”, she said.

There are a couple more examples I could mention. All these friends are relatively young, cosmopolitan, well-educated and can’t identify themselves with the strange turn that the country has taken since it voted for Brexit on Thursday. Interestingly though, none of them mentioned a potential change in the existing Freedom of Labour framework that has so far allowed non-British EU-citizens to work and live in the UK. According to recent labour market statistics, there are 2.1 million of these people currently working in the UK.

What might happen to them after a British divorce from the EU is difficult to tell. Both camps have declared before the referendum that Europeans who are already in Britain would be allowed to stay and those who are arriving between now and the exit date could be grandfathered, thus allowed to stay. That, it seems, is also what a majority of Europeans working in the UK would want. According to a survey by Totaljobs, 76 percent of Europeans working in the UK want to stay even in case of a Brexit.

Another interesting fact is that the Leave-side has already backtracked on some of its core arguments regarding immigration. As Tory MP and Leave-supporter Daniel Hannan explained, people who thought that European immigration would be reduced to zero after a British exit from the EU would most likely be disappointed.

Thus, Madeleine Sumption, the Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, assumes that there will be some form of continued European immigration into the UK. “Immigration will continue to be the most controversial issue in unpicking the relationship between the UK and the EU”, she stated on Monday when I interviewed her for DIE WELT.

For those that want to stay in the UK, this question is one that will keep us awake at night. Others, like Jovana, have already relocated from the UK, at least in their minds.