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'I don't recognise my country anymore': British citizens leaving UK because of Brexit amid exodus of Europeans

More than 100,000 Brits have already emigrated for a variety of reasons since the EU referendum

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 29 August 2017 09:24 BST
Sheree-lea Fox and her Danish fiancee Marc Oliver Bahl are among those planning to leave the UK because of Brexit
Sheree-lea Fox and her Danish fiancee Marc Oliver Bahl are among those planning to leave the UK because of Brexit (Supplied)

British citizens devastated by the EU referendum result are leaving the UK to seek a new life abroad as statistics reveal rising emigration.

Following a report on the European citizens fleeing Britain in what is being dubbed a “Brexodus”, The Independent has been inundated with messages from Brits saying they are doing the same.

Cliff James, 44, describes himself as a “Brexile” after upping sticks in October last year and travelling to countries including India, Nepal, Australia, France, Israel and parts of South America.

“The EU referendum result was a huge shock, like a bereavement,” he said.

“Overnight, it felt like the country had returned to the Dark Ages of ignorance and hatred… I thought about staying and trying to fight this tide, but it felt overwhelming.”

Mr James, who has written a book on his experiences travelling the world, said he was disturbed by rising reports of hate crime and had European friends who were targeted with verbal abuse, vandalism and graffiti.

Like several other Brits who contacted The Independent, he has applied for Irish citizenship in the hope or retaining a formal link to the EU and the rights it entails.

Mr James plans to eventually settle in Spain and says that despite missing his friends and the UK landscape, he has no regrets.

“I can never see myself returning to live in England now,” he added. “I don’t recognise the country of my birth anymore… I feel like an exile.”

Cliff James, 44, is among the British citizens who have left the UK because of Brexit (Supplied)

Sheree-lea Fox, from Southampton, is preparing to move to Denmark with her partner next summer and “cannot wait” to leave.

The 27-year-old, who is expecting their first child, said she felt proud to be British but now believes people are “becoming far more racist, less tolerant and generally selfish”.

“England has become such an unfriendly place,” Ms Fox added. “England is and will always be my home but I won’t miss anything.

“I worry massively about family I leave behind, it seems England is declining in so many ways.”

Her Danish partner, Marc Oliver Bahl, said he originally loved the UK after arriving to study at university but no longer wants to raise a family here.

“The referendum has made me fearful of what might happen to us as a family if we aren’t legally married,” he said.

“I feel that England cannot and doesn’t protect or look after its citizens in the same way that Denmark does and therefore would prefer to raise my family there.

“My plans now are to finish my degree and move home as soon as we can.”

A chart showing a sharp decrease in EU net migration following the EU referendum in June 2016 (ONS)

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said 122,000 EU citizens left the UK in the year to March, while 134,000 British citizens emigrated in the same period – up 8,000 on the year before.

Most British citizens were moving for a “definite job”, the research found, while others were joining loved ones, looking for work, studying or gave no reason for the change.

The exodus, constituting the highest level of emigration since 2012, combined with slowing arrivals to cause net migration to fall by a quarter to 246,000 people.

“These results indicate that the EU referendum result may be influencing people’s decision to migrate into and out of the UK, particularly EU and EU8 citizens,” said Nicola White, the ONS’ head of international migration statistics.

“It is too early to tell if this is an indication of a long-term trend.”

Some of those fleeing Britain are foreign-born British citizens who chose to start new lives in the UK decades ago.

Dale Franzmann, who was born in Australia, moved to London in 2002 and achieved his “dream” of becoming a British citizen in August 2016.

“As my dream came true, my new citizenship failed me,” he said. “In October, I left my job working for a large global bank, bought a campervan and with my partner have been travelling all around Europe.”


Mr Franzmann said that he once felt “part of the leadership engine of the world” but has felt like “part of the problem” since Brexit, adding: “Europe is laughing at us.”

Michael Walker was born in America and became a British citizen in 2001, but left in January to start a new life in Ireland.

“I moved to the Republic of Ireland because I am passionately, adamantly against Britain leaving the EU,” he said.

“I have watched in horror as the referendum unleashed ugly, ethnocentric forces in British society.

“I want no part of any of that, and thus I sold my property in the UK and left.”

Mr Walker, who now runs a translation firm from Cork, proudly takes on the label “citizen of the world” that Theresa May used to disparage Brexit critics earlier this year.

“The British public committed a grave act of self-harm in June last year, in some ways worse than what America did last November,” he added.

“I would never have believed it if I hadn’t lived through the nightmare of the last 18 months.”

Boris Johnson dodges question on student migration figures

Many of the people who contacted The Independent have already left the UK, while others were constrained by work or family obligations but are making efforts to move as soon as possible.

Fawaad Kausar, who was born in Manchester but grew up in London, said he is “seriously working on leaving the UK” with his wife and two children.

He said both Brexit and the “anti-Muslim sentiment caused by terrorists” had driven the decision, adding: “It might not be here yet, but we would be naive to assume that none of us would ever be victims of racism, discrimination and even assaults as horrific as the recent acid attacks.”

Mr Kausar is an e-commerce project manager and his wife is a solicitor but says he fears the impact of “post-Brexit attitudes…unleashing outright racism into the mainstream”.

“It’s heartbreaking as we see generations of honest hard work, assimilation, integration, contribution and co-existence undermined,” he added.

“I can only hope this is a phase that we as a nation will come out of but it just seems that things may get worse before they get better.”

Rebecca Didt, who is in the process of applying for German citizenship, said a case worker in Germany told her “a lot of other Brits” had made applications.

“I no longer feel I can associate myself with the values of a country I honestly no longer recognise,” she added. “Clearly, I’m not alone in feeling like this.”

Ian, an IT consultant from south-west England who did not want his full name published, said he believes many more people will seek to escape the “economic bloodbath” he expects after Brexit.

He is moving to Ireland with his wife and three children “as soon as possible”, adding: “I don’t think the ‘United’ Kingdom has a long term future.”

Theo, a 71-year-old Oxford resident, says he would have left Britain already if he was able to.

“On the morning after the result last year my first thought was ‘I want to go somewhere else’,” he said.

“I didn’t want to live in this country anymore. Since then I’ve seen a rise in racism, xenophobia, homophobia and religious intolerance.”

Mr Dunnet said he feels the country where he was born in the year after the Second World War ended was regressing “towards the poorer past”.

“If I could speak German or another foreign language and were many years younger I’d have already left by now,” he added.

“What keeps me here is I live in a wonderful city, Oxford, and have access to one of the best libraries in the world, the Bodleian, and am too old at my age to uproot and take on such a new life.”

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