Citizens in Brexit Britain clamour for German passports, study shows

Outward migration also rises significantly, with emigrants prepared to take more risks

Britons have rushed for the exits of Brexit Britain, a new study suggests, sparking a brain drain on a scale last seen during the 2004 EU accession of central and eastern European countries – but in the opposite direction.

The joint research report, by Berlin’s Social Science Centre and the University of Oxford’s new Berlin outpost, shows that post-Brexit immigrants in Germany are prepared to accept higher risk and even lower pay and conditions to start a new life outside the UK.

Outward migration from the UK to EU neighbours has jumped 30 per cent in the last four years, to around 17,000 people annually, with about half attributable to what researchers term the “collective uncertainty” Brexit vote.

That uncertainty is visible, too, in naturalisation applications. Compared with pre-Brexit figures, UK citizen applications for another EU passport have jumped 500 per cent – and 2,000 per cent for Germany.


“We’re observing a new social migration phenomena and a redefining of what it means to be British-European,” said Daniel Tetlow, a co-author of the study. “In 2019, Brits came in just behind Turks in numbers receiving German citizenship – way ahead of Poles, Romanians, Iraqis or Syrians.”

During the same period migration among other EU member states showed no comparable spikes and, in many cases, stagnated.

As well as migration data, researchers Daniel Tetlow and Dr Daniel Auer conducted 46 qualitative, semi-structured face-to-face interviews with British migrants across Germany – a popular destination for a diverse cohort of UK emigrants in the last decades.

The interviews, covering arrivals from 2007 to 2019, showed a clear divide between pre- and post-Brexit arrivals. Two-thirds of the latter group were prepared to accept a pay cut, or a pay freeze as part of their UK escape plan.

They were also significantly greater risk-takers than earlier arrivals: a 40-something male IT consultant said he was still hunting for work in Germany but that “the advantages still outweigh the uncertainty that Brexit brought on my family”.

Brexit push

A third of the post-Brexit arrivals conceded they would not have moved had the UK voted to remain in the EU in June 2016. Within 12 weeks of that vote, half of them had departed the UK, compared to the 12 months a majority of pre-Brexit arrivals spent planning their move.

“The referendum happened in 2016 – and we immediately changed our minds about buying a house in Bristol,” said one interviewee, a 40-something male academic. “Our whole emigration decision hung on the referendum result.”

One-third of the recent group said Brexit had caused direct mental health problems or depression and, in what researchers called an “irony” of Brexit, new arrivals expressed a greater determination to integrate into German society, in particular by learning German, than in the past.

A 30-something female translator who arrived in 2015 said, in her subjective experience, many UK citizens in Germany “do not recognise Britain any longer, and feel ashamed to call themselves British, drawing instead on regional and local identities like Scottish, Welsh, Lancastrian, from Yorkshire.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin