Brexit and me: ‘ I’ve become accepted, like an old bicycle in the street’

Photo: Jort Klarenbeek
Photo: Jort Klarenbeek

How are British nationals in the Netherlands coping with Brexit? In the run-up to October 31 and beyond, we are talking to Brits about how Brexit is affecting them personally, what they are planning to do to regulate their stay, and how they view the UK.

Claudia Woolgar is involved in theatre and was co-artistic director of Leeuwarden European Capital of Culture 2018. She has lived in Romania and Ireland as well as the Netherlands and her parents voted UKIP.

“I’ve been Dutch since February 28 this year. I put the application in last May, because it takes nine months – it’s a pregnancy, becoming Dutch, and I wanted to time it for the original March 29 deadline. I was co-artistic director of Leeuwarden European Capital of Culture 2018, so I hoped I’d be able to get the nationality during the cultural year as a sort of two fingers up to Britain. But I’m very pleased I did it and I’m proud to I have Dutch nationality now.

“I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for Brexit. My whole career has been international and mainly focused on Europe. I started out as a journalist and was living in Romania when the Cold War ended. Then I met a Dutch theatre technician and we decided to get married, and we thought the best thing would be to go to a country where we were both strangers. So we went to Ireland and spent 12 years there before coming here for personal reasons in September 2014.

Orange lipstick

“The naturalisation ceremony was appallingly set up by the gemeente in Rotterdam. No sense of occasion at all. But it was an important moment, so I dressed up with orange nails and orange lipstick and an orange scarf. I brought my son, husband and a friend who’d worked at the council for years. Though actually, I felt most emotional when I paid over my €800, because that made it a definitive decision.

“It’s an extraordinary privilege to have dual passports, particularly from two wealthy developed countries. Aside from the right to vote, it does give you a sense of a greater justification for being here. It’s still a relatively new country to me, but I feel I have a greater right to be here now I have a Dutch passport. And it’s great when somebody hears my English accent and comes back at me in English, and I’m able to say: excuse me, I speak Dutch and I am Dutch.

“I was the only non-Dutch national on the team in ’17 and ’18 up in Friesland and they started out endlessly teasing me but the more Dutch I learned and the more I integrated the greater the distinction was. And I still get teased, and that’s fine and I can play up to that, but I think the Dutch nationality has made a difference. I’ve become accepted, like an old bicycle in the street.

Gettysburg address

“One of the difficult things was telling my UKIP-voting parents. My mother was understanding; my father made very little comment. The day before the first referendum he sent an email round the family and close friends, explaining why we should vote to leave the EU, and he quoted the Gettysburg address, and a paragraph in that that speaks about sovereignty.

That focus on sovereignty says so much to me about that generation. I can be proud of the country I came from but nationalism brings out the worst in people, and sovereignty is akin to that.

“I feel like I don’t know the UK any longer. On the occasions when I go back I don’t recognise it any longer. It’s physically changed. It looks terribly run down. Houses look run down, roads look run down, villages look run down, it all just looks depressing and un-looked after.

“One of my Romanian friends who moved to the UK has since left because of the anti-Romanian comments she was getting. I find that nationalistic outlook that you hear about so often in the UK press really depressing. I think Brexit thing is the flipside of this small-mindedness and this island mentality.


“On the night of the referendum my WhatsApp wouldn’t stop with Dutch friends. Everybody was just as astonished as I was. And then as the whole discussions went on and on and on, it moved from fascination to a sort of ridicule. It used to be a topic of conversation, but everybody’s bored with it now. Belachelijk is the word everybody uses. I’m embarrassed by it. I’m embarrassed by the shambles and the arrogance.

“I listen to BBC Radio 4 every morning, I still have British nationality and my family are still there. I feel passionately that there should be a second referendum. A lot of the people – too many young people didn’t engage. I think they would now. There were a lot of lies told during the campaign and I very passionately feel that in the interests of democracy and the future of the younger generation that there should be a second referendum.


“When I lived in Ireland in the 1990s I drove theatre sets between the North and the Republic. I know what that border was like when it was a hard border and I understand how emotive that issue is. I find it desperately sad. I fail to understand how the British government did not understand what an enormous issue it was. It’s the politicians’ job to understand these issues, but if they don’t then what hope is there?

“We heard during our cultural capital year that Britain wouldn’t be allowed to be a European capital of culture in 2023, despite the bids from Nottingham and Norwich and various other cities.

I’ve been very pro-Europe in this discussion, but I think that was an appallingly bad decision by Brussels, because if the European Capital of Culture is about anything it is about reinforcing what we in Europe have in common. If ever there is a time when the UK should host the European capital of culture it is now.”

Claudia Woolgar and Brave New World Producties are bringing multidisciplinary theatre show Fuerza Bruta to Leeuwarden from December 5 to 19.

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