Citizens In Distress – The Mental Strain Of A No-Deal Brexit


If we reflect on the situation of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU-27, nothing has really changed since the referendum vote three years ago. Although an agreement concerning our fate was reached in December 2017, it very much depends on the whole withdrawal deal being accepted by Westminster. This is something that has not occurred under Theresa May’s premiership and has even less chance of happening if her successor is Boris Johnson or any other hard-line Brexiteer.


Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed – European Union


But where does that leave EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU-27? The honest answer is that we don’t know and that, for some of us, Brexit is becoming a psychological nightmare. The problem lies in the fact that if – as seems increasingly more likely – there is a no-deal Brexit, the citizens’ rights agreement reached in December 2017, with all its imperfections, will no longer be valid. Given that, in the case of a no-deal Brexit, the EU has refused to allow the prospect of mini-deals guaranteeing citizens’ rights per individual member-state, our futures lie more than ever in the balance.

Confusing? Well, I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who is just a little bit confused about the future post-Brexit. The Dutch immigration service also seems to be disoriented about a situation that is disorienting to say the least.

On 17th January I received a letter from Dutch immigration telling me that I was registered as a British national living in the Netherlands. The letter explained that I would no longer be an EU citizen after March 29th, and quoted the following subject matter:

citizensDate: 16 January 2019

Name: […]

Date of Birth: […]

Nationality: French


One of the many problems concerning citizens’ rights is that there are practically as many specific individual cases as there are citizens. If I take my own situation, what will the Dutch government’s attitude be towards a British/French citizen who is working in the Netherlands thanks to the recognition of a UK professional qualification? The authorities cannot force me to ask for a new residence permit because I am a French national. But will they ignore my French citizenship because of my UK qualification and still ask me for a residence permit? Judging from the letter I received, that is not impossible.

In 2017, the Existential Academy – a non-profit organisation based in London – set up an emotional support service for Europeans (ESSE) whose aim is to provide a confidential support service for EU citizens who are finding it increasingly hard to cope with the uncertainty of Brexit.

We can provide a private, supportive, sometimes challenging, always respectful environment in which self-discovery and reflection will help you source the inner strength and courage required to make new choices for your future in these uncertain times. – ESSE information leaflet

For psychotherapist Emmy van Deursen, the Brexit vote and the ensuing lack of compassion – from both sides of the Channel dare I say – has led to the appearance of a new kind of depression that she describes as “Brexit depression.” It affects perfectly stable people who have no previous history of mental illness but whose lives have been overturned by the unfortunate result of a referendum.


Brexit affects the daily lives of those of us who chose to live a dream beyond the shores of our homelands.


Whilst I may smile about the error in the letter I received, other EU citizens are less fortunate. How would you feel if you received the following in your letter box?



The government’s policies and attitudes towards EU citizens are directly responsible for the deep anxiety and insecurity felt by thousands of people on both sides of the Channel. For politicians like Boris Johnson, Brexit is a philosophical concept, a political ideal, or simply respecting the will of the people who voted in a referendum that was advisory in nature and flawed in its implementation. No,it isn’t. Having lived with Brexit from the inside and suffering the uncertainty of a referendum I couldn’t take part in, I can tell you from experience that Brexit is a unique personal situation that is multiplied millions of times to encompass each one of us who will be affected by the relevant UK and EU decisions.

Brexit affects the daily lives of those of us who chose to live a dream beyond the shores of our homelands. We did so in good faith, benefiting from a wonderful institution that was created to mend a broken world. It was based on freedom of movement and a choice of residence, all in a context of peace and mutual recognition. It is evil and immoral for present-day politicians to retroactively jeopardise personal decisions that have architected the way each one of us lives, decisions that were based on unequivocal rights set up decades ago. Freedom of movement within the EU may not be regarded as an acquired right by law, but it is sufficiently embedded in the psyche of all those who have benefitted from it, to be retrospectively irrevocable.


The European Union has a common mission to extend, enhance and expand rights, not reduce them. We will never endorse their retroactive removal. The European parliament will reserve its right to reject any agreement that treats EU citizens, regardless of their nationality, less favourably than they are at present. This is a question of the basic fundamental rights and values that are at the heart of the European project.  – Guy Verhofstadt, 2017


Guy Verhofstadt promises to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit. This can only be done through the European Court of Justice, an institution whose jurisdiction the UK wants to end. But what about the British citizens who have made their lives in the EU-27? Who do we turn to for protection and upholding of our present rights? In the case of a no-deal Brexit, the European Commission urges the EU-27 to “take a generous approach to the rights of UK citizens in the EU, provided that this approach is reciprocated by the UK,” and should, “adopt a pragmatic approach to granting temporary residence status”. 

Up to now, there is no clear-cut information of what citizens’ rights per EU member-state will be in the event of a no-deal Brexit, although it is more than likely that present rights to work and live for those already in a EU-27 member-state will be maintained.




Regarding professional qualifications that have already been recognised, it seems that these will not be affected by a no-deal Brexit.





For the former Dutch asylum minister Mark Harbers,


Even after Brexit, British citizens will still be most welcome to live, work and study in the Netherlands. It is therefore important for the EU and the UK to reach solid right of residence agreements. Because there is still no certainty regarding this, the IND has made adequate preparations in anticipation of a no-deal scenario. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, British citizens who are lawfully resident in the Netherlands will be allowed to continue living there for a period of 15 months. Although this takes away their most pressing concern in the short term, they will require a permanent residence permit after the transition period.


Why 15 months in the event of a no-deal Brexit, I ask myself? It seems to me no-deal is precisely what it means and will lead to an overnight change in our status. We will all become Chinese and American in the space of a few hours.



Will I receive a temporary residence permit in the form of a letter if I have another EU citizenship?

No, you and your relatives who also have another EU/EEA or Swiss citizenship will not receive a temporary residence permit in the form of a letter. In this case you do not need this permit because you automatically retain your right of residence in the Netherlands after Brexit, provided you meet the relevant EU legal requirements.


The above frequently asked question appearing on the Dutch immigration website underscores the fact that it’s all complicated and what we all will receive through our letter boxes will be subject to the level of knowledge and understanding of the immigration officials who post the letter. Whether they actually read what they post before sealing the envelope is another matter. If they do read at least the subject matter, it may be helpful for me at least, that they know the difference between British and French citizenship.

Unless of course, there’s another referendum I didn’t participate in!