‘I’m packing my bags today’: The Irish leaving Brexit Britain

London is ‘haemorrhaging talent’, say recruiters. Are the Irish part of the brain drain?

Recruiters in London warned this week that the city is "haemorrhaging talent" as a result of Britain's decision to leave the European Union, with the number of people seeking jobs there down 33 per cent in the last year.

While we don’t yet know how many Irish have left Britain since the people voted for Brexit, figures from the Office for National Statistics show that overall, 117,000 EU nationals departed in the year following the referendum in June 2016, up 36 per cent on the previous year.

While many promises have been made about the "special relationship" between Ireland and Britain, and intentions to maintain the common travel agreement which allows Irish people to live and work there, uncertainty about the implications of Brexit has led many Irish to question their future in the country.

This week, Irish Times Abroad asked readers based in Britain about their plans, and whether Brexit has had an impact. Here is what some of them had to say.


Brian Kavanagh (44), criminology lecturer: ‘If Brexit hadn’t happened, it is unlikely I would be packing my bags’

Next weekend, I will leave my life in London for the final time after teaching in higher education here for the last 12 years. At no point did I ever claim benefits and, apart from a few blood tests, I have not burdened the NHS.

But this is how I (and 3 million others) were presented in the predominately right-wing press during the Brexit campaign, as a burden. I thought people would see through the misrepresentation of the EU. But the vote to leave shows British people saw EU citizens as an inconvenience, and not as individuals who had contributed to this country.

Since the referendum I have no longer felt at home here. I quickly changed jobs, after realising the university in which I was teaching was heavily reliant on EU funding for research. There are clear signs that the economy is stalling, the cost of living is rising and wages are stagnating.

While it seems likely that the Irish will be able to stay after Brexit, the constantly changing approach by Britain to the EU negotiations means I no longer have faith in their promises to the Irish. Anyway, how can I stay while the EU friends and colleagues I have worked beside are no longer welcome, or have to join an ID register?

There is never one clear reason for emigrating, rather a number of push and pull factors. But I can say with confidence that if Brexit hadn’t happened, it is unlikely I would be packing my bags today.

Jane Fahey (31), PA to an MD at a management consultancy firm: ‘Ireland will become much more enticing for expats’

I voted to remain, and Brexit came as a big shock not only to me and my friends, but also my co-workers. Even now, more than a year later, there is an air of uncertainty. I came to London four years ago having lived in San Francisco, attracted by career opportunities Ireland did not have at the time.

This seems no longer to be the case; every day I read of new companies opening European headquarters in Ireland. Friends working in Dublin assure me there are plenty of jobs. Ireland is once again seen as an enticing investment for companies, with a highly skilled workforce, and it is still in the EU.

The cost of living in London was only ever counterbalanced by the salary, but if such well-paid jobs move to Ireland post-Brexit, Ireland will become much more enticing for expats to come home.

Jenny Phelan (29), programme manager for the Victoria and Albert Museum: ‘How we felt about the UK changed’

Being Irish and living in London since 2012, my husband and I were able to vote Remain in the referendum, unlike many of our European friends. We were in Gatwick Airport on the way to the wedding of our Greek friends, who we met in London, when the results broke. It was both shocking and upsetting to consider that the free movement of people, and the way we live and work, could change so drastically.

Over the following months, uncertainty grew. My employer brought in a team of immigration lawyers to help ease staff’s fears. Most people we discussed Brexit with were surprised it could affect the Irish. British colleagues and friends would say, “Oh, I forgot you would be included in this.”

But we felt different. We identify as European. It wasn’t that we were treated differently after the vote, but how we felt about the UK had changed.

After five years here, we have begun to discuss moving back to Dublin. Although Brexit was the catalyst, close friends and family ties at home also play a role.

The potential impact of Brexit is worrying, but the current situation in Ireland is just as concerning. Would we have the same opportunities as we do here? Would we be able to get a mortgage or even afford car insurance?

Even with the unknowns of a looming Brexit, Ireland still has a long way to go to entice returning emigrants like us.

Patrick Hanlon (27) and Russell Alford (26), food writers behind GastroGays.com: ‘We felt we had to get out’

We moved home in June after four years in London. We were nervous at the Brexit vote but thought it wouldn’t pass, even by a slim margin. We were abroad the morning of the result and the distance felt reflective of our feeling on the whole thing.

Brexit brought up a “them vs us” attitude quite starkly, and emigration, border control and movement of people were some of the biggest sticking points of both sides of the campaign. We’ve both had experiences of colleagues or neighbours complaining about “immigrants taking our jobs” – but when offered the slice of reality that we, too, were immigrants in London it was brushed off as “oh, but you’re Irish, it’s not the same”.

We only wish those who voted for Brexit thought as much about Ireland as they did the rest of Europe – Northern Ireland was so disregarded in the entire campaign by both the media and the politicians, it baffled us, yet the repercussions on both sides of the border post-Brexit are very real.

Living in London was more difficult than we thought. We moved over to seek bigger and more exciting career opportunities than we could find in Dublin, and found a relentless pace and an incredibly competitive culture. This combined with Brexit prompted us to leave.

Britain definitely is haemorrhaging talent. We felt we had to get out.

Daniel Carry (29), committee secretary at the British Medical Association: ‘We clutch to the “special relationship” between Ireland and Britain’

As an Irish citizen, Brexit has been a mixed blessing. My British colleagues express envy at the endurance of my status as an EU passport holder, while I and other fellow Europeans remain anxious about where we will stand in the UK post-Brexit. The confused and disordered strategy of the UK government to the negotiations has certainly not helped this anxiety.

Up to last year, I hadn’t considered leaving the UK to return to Ireland or go elsewhere. I was (and still am) very happy living in London. The city has been good to me, and I have built a life here. But if my circumstances are changed adversely by Brexit, then the choice to leave might be made for me.

I work with a few Irish people and none of us are overly concerned. We clutch to the “special relationship” between Ireland and Britain, hoping it will leave us in a better position than our Spanish, Polish and German colleagues, but who knows?

One thing is for sure, the British economy will suffer terribly if the current number of EU workers here declines rapidly.

Evan Byrne (26), account executive for communications consultancy: ‘I have a life here – friends, a career that is getting better’

Driving me to the airport on the day I was leaving for London to start a new job last April, my dad said to me, “you’ll feel like a right eejit if they vote to leave in June.” I dismissed his remark, because I couldn’t believe Brexit would ever happen.

Despite being quite wrong, I’ve no intention of leaving. I don’t want to emigrate to yet another country, considering all the money I spent coming here. And it’s not like home is blowing London out of the water: Dublin is in the middle of a housing crisis, taxes are higher, and although unemployment has fallen, getting a new job could still be a challenge.

I have a life here – friends, a career that is getting better, and I love the city. So why would I up and go because of Brexit, when we don’t yet know how it’ll turn out in the long run?

Steve Riddett (43): ‘It would go against every grain to move back to Britain’

I am a British citizen with an English father and an Irish mother. I lived in England the first 26 years of my life, and in Ireland for the latest 17 years. My partner is Irish and our kids are technically British, because they were born in a hospital in the North, but we all live in Donegal. "Nationality" can be complicated.

My partner saw a job advertised recently in an area she’d love to work in, offering a good package. But as soon as we realised it would involve moving from Donegal to London, we lost interest. It would go against every grain to move back to Britain at this unhappy time. I don’t know whether Brexit is encouraging the Irish to leave, but it is certainly discouraging this hybrid Irish-British family from going there.

Being a sort of hybrid I’ve always (without really being conscious of it) played an informal ambassadorial role. I’ve portrayed the Irish in the best light to any English I’ve met, and the English in the best light to any Irish.

With Brexit, I don’t have the heart for that any more. The hatred and vitriol coming from some English (even respectable, well-educated ones), and the lack of compassion for the damage Brexit will cause to Europe, has knocked me off my feet.

Lauren Costello (26), sustainability consultant: ‘I will probably leave in the next few years’

I was saddened by the referendum result. Now, I’m concerned – about the repercussions the UK is feeling as a result of Brexit uncertainty, combined with years of cuts in public services.

I campaigned for the Liberal Democrats in this year’s general election, as I feel it is the only party fighting for a fairer and more just society, and is looking out for me as an EU citizen. But with the cost of living rising and fundamental services being hit, I believe my quality of life would be better elsewhere. I will probably leave the UK in the next few years.

I’ve given a lot of thought to my career, my ambitions and what I value, and have decided to accept a job outside of London (but still in the UK).

Brexit has hastened my departure from London, but it wasn’t necessarily a determining factor. I want to be able to spend more time with family and enjoying my hobbies, not working insane hours in the city and commuting. London is a wonderful place to live and work, but I don’t think many young people are going to be able to “live” here much longer.

Dawn Angley (26), events manager: ‘I think Brexit will put the Irish at an advantage’

I have been living in London for two and a half years. I am not worried about Brexit. I do not feel I will be forced to leave, nor do I envisage I will find it difficult to stay when Brexit is enforced fully. I am not concerned for the future of my career here; if anything, I think Brexit will put the Irish at an advantage.