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Rebordering Britain & Britons after Brexit

S3 E2 Free Movement, limited

2 Jun 2023

Michaela Benson [MB]: Welcome to season three of ‘Who do we think we are?’, the podcast debunking taken for granted understandings of migration and citizenship in Britain today. In this season, we'll be considering the role of migration in the making of ‘Global Britain’, as the UK redefines its borders and seeks to reposition itself on the world stage following Brexit. I'm Michaela Benson, a sociologist specialising in citizenship and migration, and your host. For this season, I'll also be joined by co-host Nando Sigona, whose research expertise includes international migration and forced displacement. Join us as we challenge public and political narratives of migration to and from Britain today, and encourage you to think differently about some of the most pressing issues of our times, charting a new understanding of Britain's migration story after Brexit. 

Elspeth Guild [EG]: I think one of the aspects, which is most interesting from the Eurobarometer reports, these reports on public opinion in the European Union that come out annually, is just how consistently Free Movement of persons is placed as the most important benefit, which the people of Europe see of the European Union. And not just the Free Movement of persons, but also the development that followed in the early 1990s, of the abolition of border controls. 

MB: We just heard from legal scholar and lawyer Elspeth Guild, explaining the value that EU citizens place on Freedom of Movement. To me, this is particularly striking in the context of Brexit. And those repeated mantras from the UK government about "taking back control" and delivering on the will of the people through securing a Brexit deal. It raises a question in my mind about whether British citizens were so at odds with the rest of the EU populace that they didn't place the same value on Freedom of Movement. Now, unsurprisingly, it's a lot more complicated than that. And those Eurobarometer reports might suggest otherwise. We might also want to remember that, by the time Britain left the European Union, an estimated 1.2 million British citizens were living and working in those other member states, having exercised their rights to Freedom of Movement. Anyway, we're not here today to talk about public opinion surveys. We're going to be focusing on the concept of Freedom of Movement, its development as a legal structure within Europe and its relationship to the European Union. Catherine Craven is going to offer us a brief introduction to Freedom of Movement in Europe, the treaties that introduce legislation past and present relating to this, and also some reflections on the social side of it, how it relates to the project of making an imagined community of Europeans. Drawing on her expertise in EU law, justice, and home affairs relating to immigration, asylum and border controls, we'll bring Elspeth back in to explain the history of Freedom of Movement, its development alongside changes to the institutional structures of Europe, what Free Movement does for Europeans, and its relationship to EU citizenship. She's also going to be considering what it means for borders and border controls within the bloc, and the contrast to the EU's external borders, including her reflections on the politicisation of asylum in the UK and EU. And Nando and I will be in discussion about Free Movement, reflecting more on who moves and how mobility within the EU gives rise to identity and belonging. How inequalities within the population of EU citizens play out vis-a-vis freedom of movement. And we're also going to be drawing on our findings from the MIGZEN research to consider how the loss of Free Movement through Brexit has been lived and experienced by British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. But first, let's hear from Catherine about what we mean by Freedom of Movement. 

Catherine Craven [CC]: Freedom of Movement is one of the four freedoms enshrined in the treaties of the European Union. It became one of the key issues at the heart of the Brexit referendum. Simply put, the EU's Free Movement regime permits citizens of EU member states to travel freely, live and work in any other EU member state. Since Brexit, Free Movement between the UK and EU member states is no longer possible. The only exception to this is between the UK and Ireland. Here., the Common Travel Agreement, in place since 1928, permits free movement between the two countries. The end of Free Movement between the UK and the EU has impacts on both EU citizens seeking to live and work in the UK, and British citizens seeking to live and work in the EU. But it also has implications for those who had already taken advantage of their Free Movement rights. British citizens living in the EU, EU citizens living in the UK, and their dependent family members. In the wake of the Brexit referendum, it was estimated that this included up to 5 million people. During the Brexit negotiations, considerations over the status of these people who had exercised Free Movement prior to Brexit, were addressed through the focus on citizens' rights. But what is the history of Freedom of Movement within the EU? Freedom of Movement was first enshrined in international law in the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as the right to travel freely within a country, the right to leave a country, and to return to one's own country. In other words, it placed limits on an individual state's ability to control the mobility of those living within its borders. Notably, this declaration did not include the right to enter a country. Controls over entry, more commonly understood as immigration, remained firmly in the hands of individual nation states. In this respect, the emergence of Freedom of Movement at the EU level was a significant departure from the UN's understanding of Free Movement. The EU treaties established Free Movement rights across EU member states. This meant that, in addition to freedom to move and settle within a state, and to leave and return to one's own country, citizens of an EU member state, were given the right to move to and settle in another EU member state. By agreeing to implement Free Movement rights across the EU, member states were agreeing to give away some of their sovereignty, their decision-making power, over who was allowed to enter their territories. On a continent that had been torn apart by wars and chauvinistic nationalism just decades earlier, this seemed like a worthwhile trade off. Freedom of Movement was, and still is, seen as significant for promoting and maintaining peace in Europe. However, the meaning of Freedom of Movement in the EU has changed over time. More recently, Freedom of Movement has been at the heart of EU social and political integration, and the establishment of a community of EU citizens. Free Movement within the EU has been at the heart of scholarship that considers the significance of intra EU mobility for the making of European identities, and the development of an EU-wide imagined community. Mobile citizens are considered a bellwether for the success of the political project of European integration. But there are questions we might want to ask ourselves about this inclusive story of EU citizenship. Can all those who hold EU citizenship access Free Movement equally? And on what terms? And how does this relate to the shoring up of Europe's external borders, and the project commonly referred to as Fortress Europe? 

MB: To offer more depth on Freedom of Movement as a legal structure, here's Elspeth: 

EG: One of the things, which I think we must remember is that Free Movement of Persons was integrated into the EU treaties from the very beginning, from 1957, with a 10-year period to adjust the legislation during that first 10-year period between 1957 and 1968. A number of secondary measures, first directives then regulations, were adopted to provide for Free Movement of Persons. And at the end of 1968, Free Movement happened - that was the end of the transitional period  and we were up and running. It is one of the four core freedoms of the EU and it cannot be separated from the other three. So Free Movement of Goods, Persons, Services, and Capital. And that's the end of the story. In 1957, this wasn't such an astonishing thing to do, because many member states, at least the member states which were having labour shortages - France, Germany and the Benelux - had entered into bilateral agreements with other countries in Europe - Turkey as well, and further abroad - to permit their ministries of employment to recruit workers to come to their country to work. So, it wasn't a problem of too many workers, it was a problem of too few. So Free Movement of workers was considered to be a very good idea. Although in 1957, everyone knew that the source country of workers for Europe would be Italy. The principle of reciprocity meant that there was this sense that everyone is a winner: Germans can go to Italy, the French can go to Belgium etc. And this will be a form of movement in which everyone is a participant and everyone benefits. So we have Free Movement of Persons as a very ... quite a mature project in Europe. I think that the big moments of transformation for Free Movement of Persons was, of course 1990, when, for the first time, we included non-economically active persons as entitled to rights, and introduced for the first time a somewhat controversial aspect, which is that for the non-economically active, there is a duty to have sufficient resources and sickness insurance. Though the bar has been set very low. The next really critical step was the creation of citizenship of the Union in the early 2000s. So that is a major moment where we seek to transform workers and economically active migrants who are nationals of the member states into citizens. We still have shortcomings. And the shortcomings in respect of the rights of citizens of the Union moving to other member states tend to be around access to certain kinds of economic rights. There has been tremendous integration of social security systems. The implementation of that has been increasingly effective. We've had a whole series of difficulties with the abolition of border controls, which doesn't really affect citizens of the Union, as much as it affects their Third Country National family members, or Third Country Nationals resident in the European Union. The biggest beneficiaries of the abolition of border controls are of course EU nationals who come from visible ethnic minorities. And all of the work shows that if you take away the border guards, then these people are no longer the subject of harassment and discriminatory treatment at border control posts. But, by and large, the discrimination comes from economic exclusion, rather than necessarily being identified beforehand to be excluded. We've also seen, for instance, before Brexit, particularly women of visible ethnic minorities, in insurance and banking, who hit glass ceilings in the City (of London), moving to Frankfurt to the European Central Bank, or the banks in Frankfurt, and being seen not as somebody who should be subject to a glass ceiling and not allowed to advance, but as someone with very valuable knowledge of how the City works, in terms of banking operations. So Free Movement has been a liberator in some ways for some visible ethnic minority citizens of the Union. One of the issues, for which the EU is very rightly castigated in the international community is the treatment of persons seeking to cross the external borders of the European Union. And one must never underestimate the horrific border violence, which is delivered to fairly small numbers of persons seeking to cross the border often for reasons which are absolutely permitted in international law, for instance they are refugees. They are primarily citizens of countries with very high recognition rates as refugees in the UK: Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis. Any of the discussion  about "the boat is full", is obviously wrong and is proven wrong every time people, the Ukrainians just being the most recent example of that. We can do better! We can do a lot better. We can provide the same kind of warm welcome to all people seeking asylum in the European Union, which we are providing to the Ukrainians. That would be a very good starting place. We can make Free Movement easier for people who are ... who suffer from economic exclusion. There has been a lot of effort to do this in the institutions. I think that Free Movement across borders has also been a tremendous benefit, an unexpected benefit and an unintended one, perhaps, for people who have suffered racial or religious discrimination in their country of origin. And that has allowed hundreds of 1000s of people in the European Union to escape what was seen as their pre-ordained future in their home member state as a excluded ethnic minority considered ... to which all kinds of negative characteristics are applied, to being able to achieve their potential as human beings in every sense in another member state. So, on balance, yes, problems, things need to be done. Yes, there's a lot of work out there. And border violence at the external borders is a crime and must be treated as a crime and prosecuted as a crime. But at the same time, Free Movement has been an astonishing success for enormous numbers of people in the European Union. 

MB: You're listening to Who do we think we are? presents Global Britain, a podcast all about migration and citizenship in the UK after Brexit, hosted by me, Michaela Benson, and my co-host Nando Sigona. If you like what you've heard, follow and rate us on your preferred podcast platform. This means that you'll be the first to hear when our episodes drop, and it also helps more people to discover the podcast. We just heard from Elspeth about how Freedom of Movement has evolved over time as the nature of the EU as an institution has also changed. So, while the EU was always a political project, with the emphasis moving from a common market to a political union, what we see is that the terms and conditions of Freedom of Movement have changed also. And we start to see the emergence of EU citizenship as the point at which Freedom of Movement becomes something of an identity issue. So, Nando, how do you think this plays out in the way that people feel about Europe? 

Nando Sigona [NS]: EU surveys regularly point out how Freedom of Movement is something that European citizens really love. It's in the top five selling points for being Europeans. But what is also interesting, as a paradox, perhaps, is that actually the number of people that enjoy Freedom of Movement, the number of people that actually move for work, for living abroad, is actually relatively small. So it's the potential for movement, that is something that is really appreciated, rather than not necessarily the actual movement. Recent data show that about 3.9% of the European workforce is made by "European movers" - this is how the European Union call the EU nationals who live and work in another member state - which makes about 14 million people. But it's interesting that about 18% of the people in a just recent survey from the Eurobarometer say that they are thinking about moving to another European member state in the near future. So even in terms of the intent, the intention to move is stronger than actual move. But nonetheless, this actually gives us an indication of how important, in this sense of being European, the possibility of movement within the space of the European Union etc. and in other EU member state, is central to this identity. 

MB: I was also thinking about shifting that focus beyond the mobility of EU workers, which is what people tend to think about – it's what the origins of that Freedom of Movement were - but with that expansion into thinking about ways of accommodating the mobility of non-economically active people. We start to see some trends in respect to young people moving. And I wondered what you thought, Nando, in respect to how this interplays for example, with the kind of ground-up construction of a European identity, 

NS: There are about 10 million EU workers that are living and working in another European member state, and about 13.9 millions of EU nationals overall. So, there is a sizable number of non-active workers that actually live ... they may be elderly people, young people, children, etc. But there is another element, I think, a part of this intra-EU mobility, that is very much fostered by the European Union as part of this project becoming more political, or fostering a pan-European identity, which has a strategic role: and it's the mobility of young people. In 1987, the European Union launched what is perhaps the most successful programme, which is the Erasmus programme, that involves the promotion, the circulation of - initially particularly undergraduate students - but increasingly also Masters student, PhD students, lecturers, teachers and staff working, for example in higher education institutions. And this programme now has been going on for over 40 years. About 13 million people have moved through the Erasmus programme. And one of the ... since the beginning, one of the key aim was exactly to promote a sense of European integration through the circulation of the younger generation. One of the main aims of the Erasmus programme was to enhance European integration and promoting the circulation of young people, but also the better acquisition of other European languages as a strategic priority of the European project, after all. So what is interesting here that, since the ... since Brexit, when we start to discuss in the negotiation period about what we want to take, or what we want to leave, as part of leaving the European Union - while a lot of emphasis has gone into British universities continuing to be part of the European research programme - like the Horizon programme, and we see that it's still on the table now as part of the discussion, the ongoing discussion - there was a much more firm position from the British authorities about leaving the Erasmus scheme. And also there was very little resistance to this. And why is that important? Because while, in terms of European research and British research, there is a strong economic interest in these forms of collaboration and synergies, the Erasmus programme doesn't necessarily ... doesn't bring much money at all, because European students don't pay fees in the British university and vice versa. It's all based on a reciprocal arrangement. There is no money circulation. And in many ways, is very clear that this, instead, is from a symbolic, a political point of view, is a central things. By mixing young people from European member states and with Europe we are promoting an in an "imagined community" of us being European, linking back to our first episode. The imagined community is promoted through this kind of programme. So, it's strategically important, in Brexiting Britain, to shift this imagination. And this is why we end up creating an alternative scheme for youth circulation called the Turing scheme. 

MB: So I think what's really fascinating about this kind of analysis that you've just presented around the Erasmus scheme, and why the British government may not have wanted to uphold that through the Brexit negotiations, is this idea that it fostered an imagined community and I think it kind of looks as though they couldn't conceive of the possibility of there being more than one imagined community that people could align with, to a certain degree. You mentioned the previous episode, and we talked a little bit about whether you can have multiple allegiances. And I wondered if you had an example there of how this Brexit negotiation, this point about Erasmus, this point about being European was understood by UK politicians?  

NS: Well, Michaela, in 2017, Boris Johnson wrote one of his editorials in The Daily Telegraph. And he created a bit of a scandal, in a sense. He spoke about the "split allegiances" of the young people in Britain that were painting the 12 stars on their face ... of the European Union on their face. And he sort of said that he was really troubled by seeing these young people in Britain that were showing so much, what he called ‘europatriotism’. So that's why, in a sense, this shift away from Erasmus, in a sense, I always read it as part of this narrative, this way of understanding the meaning of the European Union and Erasmus. In a way, the British government has an issue with the younger generation feeling European. And in a way they want to reverse to a previous imagined community, or move it away to a more global one. 

MB: That idea of ‘europatriotism’ - I hadn't actually come across that phrase before - but I think it's something that has quite a lot of significance for our work more generally. And in terms of thinking about the way that the people who took part in our research, talk about their identities. 

NS: Thinking back to what Elspeth said about what the open borders within Europe meant, or the freedom of circulation meant, in particular for racialized minorities, vulnerable groups, and how the reintroduction of the borders affect people, but not everyone in the same way: I was thinking about who would you think may be more affected by the reappearance of the borders within Europe, or between Britain and the European Union? 

MB: I think that's a really important point. And I think, you know, obviously, there's a thread that draws this together with Erasmus, which is around what opportunities existed for people. And certainly, the lack of border controls exercised towards European citizens when Britain was part of the European Union, meant that people who'd had kind of reached the limit in terms of their social mobility in Britain could move within the European Union to find opportunities within that broader labour market. Elspeth spoke explicitly about how that facilitated the social mobility of women of colour, working in professional arenas. And certainly, in my work with British citizens who live across the EU, this is a story that comes out really, really strongly in respect to women more generally. And my suspicion is that what we will see is the shutting down of those possibilities. And this will disproportionately impact precisely on those women of colour in ways that they had tried to escape previously, through that liberalisation of mobility that was possible through Freedom of Movement. So I don't think that those links to social mobility - which is a central part of the work that lots of the scholars working on intra-EU mobility from a sociological perspective have focused on - I don't think that that relationship between that kind of spatial mobility within the European Union and social mobility should be underestimated. And we might want to think about what that means for social mobility more generally, in the case of the UK now that Britain is no longer within the European Union. 

NS: In your previous work, obviously you also explored the response of Black British nationals to Brexit. And in my work I've looked, for example, at the impact of Brexit on racialized minorities from Europe living in the UK. And I always remember one of our Roma participants pointing out how, despite Brexit, London was still the most cosmopolitan and welcoming city for a Roma person to be nowadays. And other people I spoke to, they mentioned the fact that as a Roma person in Europe, they really struggled to find jobs, they felt discriminated. But when they were in London - and it's important, the place, so it's not everywhere in United Kingdom but in London - they said, for them it was easy to just be like everyone else. Where diversity was common place. And they were able to find jobs. So to be invisible as Roma, invisible from the stigma they see attached to them elsewhere in Europe. So this mobility offers people a possibility, or a chance, or an alternative to the struggles they have in their place of origin or elsewhere in another country. 

MB: Yeah, and I think just to emphasise that contextual point is really, really important. And certainly, when I was doing the research with Chantelle Lewis, about British People of Colour who'd moved within the European Union, you find a really, really mixed account of what their experiences are like, both in the workplace as People of Colour, and facing discrimination within the workplace, in different types of settings, but also in public. So, we do need to be a little bit cautious around it, but to also recognise that there were some opportunities there as well, particularly in respect to the labour market. 

NS: That's a really important point you're making, because, I mean, very often from the perspective of more Remain-support in Britain, Freedom of Movement has often been idealized and clearly characterised as a kind of a solution for everything. Instead, it is also important to remember that not everyone has had the possibility of enjoying Freedom of Movement in the same way, within Europe and in Britain. I mean, you have done, for example, research on the data we have on return at the border or for refusal of entry, for example, for Romanian nationals. And the numbers are really, really important. What can you tell us? 

MB: Yeah, I think that the point here is that Freedom of Movement, whatever the kind of promise of equality that underpins it, is quite stratified in ways that people probably don't imagine when they think about it. So yeah, so in that first year after Brexit, the number of people stopped at the borders, who were Romanian massively outweighed the number of people stopped of all other nationalities. It wasn't ... it wasn't just that, you know, there were a few more Romanians. And I think we do have to ask questions about that, why that was the case. But that was also a continuation of things that we've seen elsewhere, in terms of who was finding themselves prone to being asked to leave other EU member states or denied access, for example, to particular forms of benefit within those member states. And you do see, those from Europe's east - so from Poland, from Romania, and to certain degree from Bulgaria, finding themselves in that position, or finding themselves more likely to be in that in that position than say, for example, those from, kind of, 'old Europe' to a certain degree. So, I think we always need to keep that in mind when we're thinking about Freedom of Movement or anything that claims, you know, like citizenship also, always claims that it's founded on principles of equality. But the question is: who is actually created equal within that that type of system? But I thought, it'd be a good idea to turn a little bit towards hearing from some of the people that took part in our research. 

NS: When we carried out our survey on the impact of Brexit and COVID on EU nationals in UK and British nationals in Europe, we asked about how people felt in relation to the European Union, its institution and its values. And the responses were very clear in terms of expressing a strong attachment, in particular, to European values, where people were still pointing out some sort of negative aspects related to the way that European institutions operate. But the large majority showed a strong attachment. And this was interesting to see because the survey ... we did the survey over five years since the EU referendum of 2016. So, you would expect that, after this time, the sense of attachment that was mobilised as part of the Brexit referendum had somehow faded. And instead, it was still very strongly there. And we will come back on this topic in a later episode when we will discuss the political participation. Actually, what people pointed out and what was interesting was that, actually, Brexit had made their attachment to Europe stronger. So Brexit had operated is an activator. It activated this sense of attachment to European values and to the European institutions. And another thing that really pointed out, again, in line with what we heard from the Eurobarometer, is that one of the things that they more appreciated and they valued more of the European Union was actually the Freedom of Movement, the Freedom of Movement was important to them, not just in theory - because, in this case, we are talking about people that have actually moved, these are the EU free movers that we spoke to, both in terms of being British or from European member states - and for them, so Freedom of Movement was not just an abstract concept, but it was actually what they built their life on. It was Freedom of Movement that in many cases enabled them to move in another country and meet their partners. It's the place where they ... it's Freedom of Movement that enabled them to find a job or realise their, sort of, their dreams. So, seeing that Freedom of Movement has been taken away from them was something that really affected them, from a more identity perspective. "I don't know who I am now. Am I still a European citizen? What does it mean not to be any more European citizen but becoming a European migrant?" But also changing practicalities. You know, people wonder about their pensions, the transferability of pensions, if they can see the parents, if they can see their grandparents, if they can travel between places. And this was something that emerged very strongly in our citizens panel and in our survey. 

MB: Yeah, I think it's good to hear from a few of them here so that you can get a sense of the strength of that feeling around Freedom of Movement. 

Voiceover – British citizen in the EU 1: My partner is still an EU citizen, and I'm British. Since the Brexit referendum he's not wanted to live in the UK, and we moved together to the Netherlands in 2020 because of that. We've had to think carefully about where we can both live and work in future now our rights in EU countries are different. 

Voiceover – British-Hongkonger in the EU: I have lost the rights to live and work in 26 EU countries and it pushed my moving to the current country sooner. And with the Withdrawal Agreement and local government rules, I have been limited to a great deal of laws. And now if I wish to continue to secure my legal rights here, I can only stay here. Once I leave, I will lose everything. 

MB: What I think is quite interesting is the way in which we see the loss of that potential and what that signifies across both EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU. But I just want to focus a little bit here on what the loss of Freedom of Movement has meant to those British citizens who took part in the research, because what we see is very much their reflections, not only on what it's meant for them and what it might mean for their future lives, but also what it means for their children and the opportunities that they might have in the future. Now, the other thing I wanted to just draw out here is, again, I think it's a point that Elspeth made a little bit. Around ... well, it's a point that parallels something that Elspeth said. Elspeth was talking about how EU citizenship was really only activated by exercising treaty rights. But I think that there's a social side of this, too, that you've already started to touch on Nando, which is to do with how much more likely, those who've exercised Free Movement are to identify with the idea of being European. And this is a common finding on the Eurobarometer. We see this, for example, in the work of someone like Ettore Recchi, where he talks about that Eurobarometer data, and shows very, very clearly that closer identification of free movers with that idea of being European. And so to a certain degree, actually, that Free Movement becomes another, kind of, way of habituating the idea of being European. Of, kind of, making it second nature to identify as being European. And it becomes part of the construction of an EU citizenry, not only in law, but also in practice. 

NS: Definitely. And I see this also as interesting when you see the responses of our participants to what they see has changed as a result of Brexit. And very often what comes out is reference to the long queues at the airport, the fact of being asked to show their right to stay, to show the papers, the request to fill in 80 pages of an application to have the right to stay in the country. Some people, a lot of migrants, they say, "well, this is what we have always experienced" and they are right! If you are a migrant in the UK, this is what you have experienced from ... forever. I mean, this is ... the hostile environment has been there for over a decade. And before was not necessarily that much better. But from a perspective of being a European citizen - and the emphasis is on the citizen - this really marked a status shift. It marked, in the sense of, through all the paperwork, through all the borders, through the fact that the place where you work, asked you now - even after 10 years you are in Britain working for them - to prove your right to work in the country, it really makes visible a border that has been created as a result of Brexit. And so, and this was very visible in, you know, in our research, and people were pointing out about as a marker of the fact that things have changed now. 

MB: So, here's another point where we can hear what they've got to tell us about the future in respect to mobility and how that's meant that they've had to change their plans. 

Voiceover – British citizen in the EU 2: If I had a magic wand, I'd like for my partner to be able to visit me in France more than 90 out of 180 days a year. My mother will soon be 103, not sure if I can get to funeral when it happens because of my dog - UK pet passport no longer valid. All because of Brexit. 

Voiceover – EU citizen in the UK 1: I'm worried about leaving Britain to go abroad or to my home country. It is very stressful to even think about travelling. I am an EU citizen and my husband and children are British. How do we queue at the borders? What if my settled status doesn't work? Internet is down or whatever other reason. Will carrying email confirmation of my status work, even though it says it's not really valid for anything, really. I would really like to have a physical proof of my settled status and clear instruction of how to cross border with mixed nationality families." 

NS:  think one of the important points, as you said before, the European identity, being a European citizen, is constructed through the enjoyment of the Freedom of Movement. But it's also the fact that people acknowledge the fact that Freedom of Movement was central to their own life and their own, sort of, private life. Imagine the position for example, of international families, you know, the people that met in London: a German national, a Polish national, they met in London, they speak English within their families, their children are born in UK. And what happened to those families, once the border is reconstituted? It's really fundamental. And people, for example, they are worried about their children having different passports from them. They think about "oh, my children will not be able to be European citizens and so what should we do about it?". There are some of the people we interview, for example, have, they bought a house in France. And they say that now, because of the fact that you cannot spend more than 90 days in France out of 180 days, they see themselves having to count the days that they spend abroad. And this really changed their plans. You know, that you feel like the borders are being constructed around your private life. And this is something they really strongly resist. 

MB: I think that's a really important point, because, of course, they built private lives or their personal lives around one understanding. And that understanding has been massively transformed because of that shift in the status, of both British citizens in the EU, and also EU citizens in the UK. But there's another point, as well, isn't there? And this is, this is one that we'll touch on, which has to do with the very specific case of EU citizens in the UK, and some of the experiences that they've been having at the borders, because of the fact that they've been issued with a digital-only status. And I think that this is a really important point, because, you know, there's been a lot of, kind of, technological glitches, which might mean that they haven't been able to demonstrate that. There's been a lot of misunderstandings, by, kind of, the people at the external border control. So, you know, when the air stewards check your passport, before you board a flight, questioning whether EU citizens have the status that they're required in order to move to the UK, because their passports, you know, don't demonstrate any evidence that they are eligible or have a status in the UK. So there are all sorts of issues around that where the border does manifest in that moment when you're trying to get home. 

NS: But I think the point with these technological innovations being introduced with the EU settlement scheme, the idea that it is a digital-only certificate is not just a problem of glitches, it's by design built to create a sense of precariousness into those who have status, but they cannot prove it. And every time the status is regenerated, the moment in which the check is carried out, there is always this sense that "I don't know when this is expiring, I don't know if I still own it. And I don't know if the moment my bank, or my employer ask me to prove my right to stay, I don't know if they're going to find the right answer on a computer." So, it basically creates a sense of loss of control about your status, which is exactly the opposite of what the EU citizenship was promising people when the UK was part of the European Union. It's a very different, profoundly different system that creates also existential implication in terms of how people perceive it. 

MB: Definitely! And I think that it starts to highlight how, you know, the unravelling of the legal privilege of Freedom of Movement starts to introduce those forms of migration governance - which again, we're going to talk about in a later episode - into the lives of people who've never experienced it. And in ways which, you know, we might, we might want to pay attention to and we might want to reconsider that distinction that was there between EU citizens and people who were entering the country through different forms of visa routes. Now that that's, kind of breaking down, broken down legally, we might want to ask more questions about the way in which the situation that some of these EU citizens are facing corresponds to, converges with, and diverges with the experiences of others who are moving to the UK at this point in time.

Who do we think we are? presents "Global Britain" is a podcast produced and presented by me, Michaela Benson, and Nando Sigona as part of the research project (Re)bordering Britain and Britons after Brexit, and that's funded by the Economic and Social Research Council via their Governance after Brexit initiative. You can find out more about the project That's Our voiceovers, in this episode, were read by Bruce Bennett, Emma Houlton, Elena Zambelli, and Eva Lee. A special thanks to Emma Houlton at Brilliant Audio, for her production and post production support, to Catherine Craven and Elena Zambelli, for the additional research for this episode, and to George Kalivis for the cover art and social media assets. If you head over to, you'll find transcripts and enhanced show notes that include active listening questions, our podcast picks, and where you can go to find out more about the topics we discuss. And, just the last call, if you like what you've heard, please do take a moment to follow and rate us on your preferred podcast platform, reach out to us via our socials, or even just recommend us to a friend. That's all for now, but we'll be back with another episode very soon! 

We’re talking Freedom of Movement, its role in the formation of an EU–wide imagined community, and the experiences of people who have lost their FOM rights due to Brexit. Catherine Craven explains what we mean when we talk about Freedom of Movement within the EU, its institutional underpinnings and social implications. Elspeth Guild, legal scholar and counsel, joins us to talk about the history and evolution of Free Movement rights within the EU, what Freedom of Movement does for Europeans and the meaning of EU citizenship, as well as the significance of the external EU border and the politicisation of asylum in the story of EU Free Movement. Nando and Michaela reflect on changes to who moves within Europe, how mobility within the EU relates to feelings of identity and belonging, as well as the inequalities that exist amongst EU citizens when they exercise Free Movement rights, and the impact of Brexit on those people who have lost their rights to FOM since Brexit.

You can access the full transcripts for each episode over on our website  Who do we think we are?

In this episode we cover …

  1. Freedom of Movement
  2. EU citizenship, identity and belonging
  3. What Brexit and the loss of FOM has meant for British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK

Active listening questions

  • How would you describe Freedom of Movement?
  • What factors might shape people’s experience of moving within the EU? And relatedly, what challenges or opportunities might people face when they move within the EU?
  • What role does migration play in creating and maintaining a ‘community of Europeans’?
  • In what ways has Brexit changed how you - your family & friends - can move to or within the EU?

Find more about … 

How migration and asylum relate to the “European way of life” from Elspeth’s article in the European Law Journal

How British People of Colour experience Brexit in Michaela Benson and Chantelle Lewis’ article in Ethnic and Racial Studies.

What Brexit means for British citizens in the EU-27 in this short animation

What place has got to do with identifying as European in this piece on Brexit, emotions and belonging by Nando Sigona and Marie Godin.

Our podcast picks ...

Brexit Brits Abroad: Social mobility, free movement and the impermanance of citizenship rights

Borders & Belonging – How has Brexit changed the UK for Migrants?

Free Movement on  EU Settled Status

How to cite this episode:

Benson, M., Sigona, N., Guild, E.. and Craven, C. (2023) Who do we think we are? Presents ‘Global Britain’. S3 E2 Free Movement, Limited [Podcast] 2 June 2023. Available at: (Accessed: add date here)

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