Many face a choice of giving up their British passport or, potentially, jeopardising their careersby Matthew Bevington / April 29, 2020 / Leave a comment
On the evening of 31st January 2020, thousands gathered in Parliament Square to noisily celebrate the moment when the UK finally—after almost three years—left the EU. Two days earlier, on the other side of the Channel, MEPs had gathered in the European Parliament chamber to bid farewell to the UK with a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne,” before pressing on with its usual legislative scrutiny the next day.
The nature of the UK’s relationship with the EU was always bizarre. On one side, a politicised and fraught debate. On the other, the mundane, institutional business of EU membership.
Over the last few years, the UK focus has been overwhelmingly on its own side. But it is, in fact, in Brussels where the first and most sweeping changes have come. Since 1st February, for the first time since the early 1970s, there has been no British government representation in the EU institutions.
The UK no longer has a commissioner. Its officials and ministers no longer attend working groups or meetings in the council. The UK no longer has judges on the European Court of Justice. And the UK’s MEPs have also upped sticks.
Yet there is still a sizeable British presence in Brussels (and elsewhere in the EU) that has hardly been discussed: the well over 1,000 Brits who still work as EU civil servants. The UK’s exit has had a more profound impact on them than perhaps anyone else.
I have spoken to a number in recent weeks—from the commission, parliament, External Action Service and other institutions and agencies—to get a sense of what life is like now the UK has left. While many are grateful to the EU institutions for allowing them, where they have, to stay on, there remains deep anxiety about the future, concerns over how their nationality will affect their career prospects and, in some cases, a gnawing sense of already becoming outsiders.
The EU employs around 60,000 staff in total, roughly equivalent to the UK Ministry of Defence. Around half of these are in the European Commission, which is slightly smaller than the UK Home Office.
According to the latest data, there are around 700 Brits working in the commission, some 240 in the parliament and 50 or so in the council. There are a further 150 in other…