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How do Europeans living in the UK feel about Brexit?

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After last week’s referendum, the country is more divided than ever – we hear from with the young creatives caught in the crossfire

Many of you are probably still reeling from the results of last Thursday’s EU referendum. Since the ‘Leave’ campaign secured the vote with a 52 per cent majority, the UK has been in a state of shock. The economy is in freefall, our global reputation is in tatters, and a freshly legitimised sense of nationalist pride is sweeping across the country. Suddenly, it feels like the divisions between our generations, classes and races have become deeper (and more dangerous) than ever before.

Even our political leaders – the ones that put us here in the first place – have gone into meltdown over the outcome. The candidates that pushed for the vote have either remained suspiciously silent over what actually lies ahead, or have completely disappeared (Boris Johnson announced his intention to NOT run for Tory leadership this morning). To make things worse, our opposition is in an even more dire state, with Jeremy Corbyn’s status as Labour’s leader now hanging by a thread. Our entire political system has basically descended into an absolute shit-show of Bullingdon boy backstabbing, at one of the most crucial and uncertain moments in UK history. 

While many of us at least got the opportunity to have our say, though, there were plenty who were left behind. This includes the EU nationals who came to the UK to make a life for themselves. Unable to vote, and largely ignored in the aftermath, their voices were silenced by a country at war with itself. We caught up with the young Europeans who were (and still are) caught in the crossfire.

JAVIER, 25
DESIGNER
SPAIN

“I came to live in the UK for the first time in 2011. I originally came just to work here during the summer, but as the economic and political situation in Spain was quite depressing I decided to stay and give the UK a go. I ended up just making a life here. I made friends here, I went to university here, and I have also been working here since then. I was 20 when I came – so basically I have spent most of my adult life in this country.

I actually couldn’t believe it when I heard the UK would be leaving the EU. I genuinely thought it wasn’t going to happen. I’ve always seen the UK as an extremely open and tolerant country, so this decision came as a surprise. People here normally get really excited about meeting someone from a different background, the same way I do. After last Friday, I realise that I’ve been experiencing just one side of the country – and that’s quite scary, knowing that there is a whole other part that doesn’t want me here. 

I’m quite concerned about the future relations between the UK and the EU. There are apparently up to 800,000 British citizens living in Spain, which is actually more than the number of Spanish people living here. If the UK government starts taking action to make our stay here difficult, I’m sure the rest of the countries will do the same. This is going to result in a hostile situation between Europeans and Britons, which would be awful for young people. I have grown up in a Europe where I have been able to travel around with no borders, which is pretty awesome, and I think it would definitely be a shame to lose this.”

“I realise that I’ve been experiencing just one side of the country – and that’s quite scary, knowing that there is a whole other part that doesn’t want me here” – Javier

ALESSANDRA, 27
WRITER
ITALY

“I found out about Brexit as soon as I woke up, thanks to a text from a friend who just wrote ‘Merda!’ (which is Italian for ‘Shit!’). I knew then the world outside my window was suddenly going to be a different one. For the first time in seven years I genuinely thought of moving somewhere else, and this was even before I stepped out of my bed that morning. When my brain was fully awake and I realised it wasn’t a joke, a sense of profound shame swallowed me on behalf of British people.

Knowing that the majority of Britons living in London had voted to remain helped put things into perspective, but I did feel a little unwelcome for the first time. British hostility to immigration is certainly not news, and the Leave camp just helped show the rest of Europe, and the world, what had been hidden so well. I didn’t see it as a rise in racism or xenophobia, more like the uncovering of what was already there. 

A part of me wishes the government would actually trigger Article 50 as soon as possible, not only to make it fair for the majority of people who voted to leave, but also for those who voted remain to have the chance to say ‘we were right!’ – because they were. On the other hand, though, it feels hypocritical to hope for the failure of the country you have proudly called your home for almost a decade just to prove a point. Whatever happens to the UK, or to what will be left of it, I hope the consequences won’t be too catastrophic for both British people and the rest of Europe.”

PAULIUS, 19
STUDENT
LITHUANIA

“I arrived here eight years ago, in June 2008. My parents had already been working here in a factory, and for a few years they were sending money back home to me and my grandma. Once they’d settled in it felt like the right thing to do for the entire family to move to the UK and start a new life here.

The town I live in – Spalding in Lincolnshire – has negatively changed a lot. I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t because of immigration. Eight years ago, there were quite a lot of immigrants already here, but people were very accepting and looked positively towards immigration. I remember when I was at school people were very interested in the fact that I came from a different country, and they wanted to learn about my culture. They embraced diversity. But now things are very different. The population of migrants has increased drastically, there’s an eastern European shop probably on every road, and the general mood of the town has changed. People have isolated themselves from one another. Before there was a sense of community in Spalding, but now it’s segregated. You're no longer a citizen of Spalding – you are now either English or foreign. 

I watched the EU referendum results until 6am. When they announced the result, I was in disbelief and shock. I was just too tired to even comprehend what had happened. The entire Leave campaign was based on lies and hatred, and this was proven just days after the EU referendum result. The referendum was based on a democratic vote, but the democracy was corrupt.

My main concern is the time it will take for the UK to recover, both socially and economically. Overnight since the EU referendum results the global market has changed, due to the results. And this is scary, because if these sort of things happen overnight then who knows what could happen in five or ten years. And who knows how the UK government will deal with this, as it won’t have the support from the EU any more.”

“I feel concerned and sad for young British people who won’t have the same opportunities that I had. But most of all, I’m alarmed by the rise of nationalism and far-right ideals” – Paulius

SASKIA, 29
DESIGNER
GERMANY

“I came to the UK in 2007 for an internship that turned into a job. I’ve been here for nine years, and am about to marry my girlfriend who was born and bred in Hammersmith. During the first year, I didn’t actually like London very much – I really struggled with how detached many people are, the manic pace of life, and of course the weather. And I found surviving on an intern/graduate salary much harder here than in Amsterdam or Antwerp, but I eventually fell in love with the city.

I expected the referendum to be close, but that the vote for remain would win in the end. I couldn’t imagine that the majority would be so short-sighted and forget about the many opportunities and advantages we have through the EU. But I guess I was wrong. I feel concerned and sad for young British people who won’t have the same opportunities that I had. But most of all, I’m alarmed by the rise of nationalism and far-right ideals! Two years ago I would have never thought that any of this was possible. 

I hope that everyone will come to their senses and somehow the UK will stay in the EU, although that doesn’t look likely at the moment. I’m planning to take part in the demonstrations planned in London this week and next.”

LAURA, 24
STUDENT
IRELAND

“I was shocked and upset when I heard that Britain would be leaving the EU. I was hugely saddened by the move because I think it’s the result of propaganda and a lack of transparency around the facts. I have not felt any hostility directed at me personally but, like everyone else, I’ve been watching and reading reports of outbreaks of xenophobic and racist acts being carried out across the country since the announcement of the result. The approval and support from the likes of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Vladimir Putin proves that this referendum was about more than just the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. It was about expelling immigrants regardless of their circumstances, and about filtering out those who are deemed to be ‘not British enough’ in an anti-foreigner agenda.

As an Irish person, I’m naturally very concerned with the effect that this decision could have on Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is the only EU country that shares a geographical border with the UK, leaving Ireland victim to what is potentially some of the worst collateral damage of Brexit. I really worry about the predicament this leaves Irish economy and society in.

There’s already a fragile political history between the UK and Ireland. The EU was instrumental in helping to patch things up, and the Northern Ireland peace process has centred around making the border as invisible as possible – and now it looks like this delicate issue could be dragged into the spotlight again. It makes me feel both angry and sad that the decision was completely out of Irish hands when it has such huge consequences for us. It’s quite hard to know what to believe at the moment.”