British emigration to continental Europe hits 10-year high as Brexit looms

Jon Stone

An increasing number of British people are leaving the UK to go and live in continental Europe ahead of Brexit, the latest figures show.

A study by academics at Oxford University and the Berlin Social Science Centre found that emigration from Britain to the EU is now at a 10-year high.

An estimated 84,000 UK citizens migrated to the EU in 2019, up from 58,000 the year before the Brexit vote in 2015, and 46,000 back in 2012.

The number of emigrants from the UK to the EU has risen continuously since 2010, and the spike has been exaggerated since the Brexit referendum of 2016.

There are now thought to be about 1.2 million British people living in Europe, the vast majority of whom are of working age.

“The uncertainty surrounding Brexit has certainly caused large numbers of people to pack their bags in both directions,” co-author of the study and migration specialist Dr Daniel Auer said.

The study’s authors say they used figures based on national immigration statistics to build a more accurate picture of migration between the UK and EU than traditional passenger surveys, which can have a large margin of error.

“Unfortunately migration numbers, especially for people leaving the UK, have a high error rate because they rely on approximations from passenger surveys,” Dr Auer said.

“For that reason, in our study we use OECD data based on national immigration statistics, available until the end of 2017, so one of the challenges for our study is to better understand the effect of Brexit since then.”

The government is planning to end free movement of people, which is set to continue until the end of the Brexit transition period, if a no-deal Brexit can be avoided.

The transition period is set to run until the end of 2020, but could continue until December 2022 under built-in provisions for an extension.

Citizens’ rights for both EU nationals in the UK and British nationals in the EU has been a key issue in Brexit talks.

Speaking in the European parliament on Tuesday morning Guy Verhofstadt, the body’s Brexit coordinator, said that “all problems faced by EU27 nationals in the UK need to be solved” before consent could be given for the new withdrawal agreement.

In order to prevent “another Windrush scandal”, Mr Verhofstadt’s demands include no citizens being deported from Britain if they miss the deadline for settled status.

UK citizens living in the EU wrote to Boris Johnson two weeks ago and warned that statements by his government ministers had put their futures in the bloc at risk. The EU has said it will treat British migrants in a “reciprocal” manner to the way its own citizens are treated by British authorities.

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