7th Anniversary of the Brexit Referendum: Reflecting on the Journey

7th Anniversary of the Brexit referendum

Today, on June 23, 2023, we commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Brexit referendum—a day that brought about significant changes to the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union. The consequences of this historic event were felt not only by the UK but also by EU nationals residing in the country and British citizens abroad. As we reflect on this milestone, it is crucial to acknowledge the uncertainties and concerns that arose following the referendum result, especially among the millions of EU citizens who had made the UK their home.

The aftermath of the referendum triggered a sense of unease regarding residency status, employment opportunities, and access to public services for EU nationals. The pressing concern revolved around their rights and status in the UK post-Brexit. In response, the UK government embarked on negotiations with the EU, culminating in the establishment of the EU Settlement Scheme. This scheme allowed EU nationals and their family members, who had been living in the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period, to apply for settled or pre-settled status, ensuring their right to continue residing and working in the UK.

However, the application process and the associated documentation requirements introduced additional administrative burdens, leading to anxiety and uncertainty among EU nationals. Despite the settlement scheme, the Brexit referendum undoubtedly brought about a sense of upheaval and apprehension as EU citizens’ future rights and status became subject to negotiation and change.

In early 2018, the Citizens Rights Project was formed to respond to this uncertainty by providing accurate information, advice, and support regarding the EU Settlement Scheme. With limited time and resources, our primary focus has been to ensure as many eligible individuals as possible secure their right to reside before the application deadline on June 31, 2021—despite the absence of official knowledge about the number of individuals eligible for the scheme. By the end of March 2023, over 330,000 applications had been submitted by EU nationals and their family members in Scotland alone, contributing to a total of 7.2 million applications across the entire United Kingdom, according to figures from the UK Government.

To date, we have directly supported 930 individuals in their applications to the EU Settlement Scheme. We have responded to 1,700 inquiries via email, phone calls, social media messages, and face-to-face meetings. Additionally, we have organized or attended 250 events, both online and in person, spanning from Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders to Tain, Dingwall, Wick, and the Shetlands. Everywhere we have reached out to EU nationals in Scotland, we have witnessed their confusion, anxiety, and fear of an uncertain future.

As we worked closely with these vulnerable individuals, we came to realize that our mission extended beyond assisting with the bureaucratic requirements of the immigration process. We strived to provide comfort and a sense of belonging in a country they had chosen as their new home but that sometimes appeared unwelcoming. This mission was bolstered by the Stay in Scotland campaign led by the Scottish Government.

Now, nearly two years after the application deadline has passed, we continue to witness numerous EU nationals struggling to secure their rights, reunite with their family members in the UK, or navigate the digital-only immigration system to prove their right to work. Our efforts persist in protecting the rights of EU nationals and providing them with the support they truly deserve.

For individuals seeking support or organizations wishing to refer their clients for free multilingual assistance with the EU Settlement Scheme, we encourage you to reach out to us at info@citizensrightsproject.org. Together, let us work towards a more inclusive and supportive future for EU nationals in the UK.