Brexit and me: ‘The EU has been incredibly successful… but populism is rising’
How are British nationals in the Netherlands coping with Brexit? Now Britain has left the EU but is still negotiating the terms, we are talking to Brits about how the issue is affecting them personally, what they are planning to do to regulate their stay, and how they view the UK.
Professor of business management Nick Wake, 51, lives in Amsterdam. He is concerned about rising xenophobia in the UK and Brexit’s impact on his ability to teach at business schools around Europe.
‘I moved to the Netherlands six years ago after I met a Dutch woman while I was working at Warwick University. She worked at the VU, so when she got pregnant we had to choose between Coventry and Amsterdam. That was a fairly short conversation.
At the time freedom of movement was something I took for granted. I’ve always thought of myself as European first and British second. I was born in Switzerland, I’m a UK national and I live in the Netherlands. I work in countries all over Europe, so I’m a European with a British passport.
I’ve thought about taking Dutch citizenship, but I’d have to give up my British passport and that could present problems in the future if I want to move back to the UK. At the moment I have no plans to, but keeping a UK passport is an insurance policy. I also think it’s part of my identity, in the same way that being tall is or being male is, so it’s not something I’d give up easily. It’s part of the way you construct your idea of who you are in the world. I see lots of problems with Brexit, but that’s not to say that I don’t feel British, because I do.
My wife and I are no longer together, but as far as I can tell I’ll be able to get a visa that will give me permanent leave to remain in the Netherlands. So in terms of living here I’m quite happy with that. Amsterdam’s the best city in the world in the summer, though maybe not so much in winter. The issue I have is that I work in other European countries – in the last two or three years I’ve worked in Latvia, France, Belgium and Slovenia. That’s not a problem now, but there’s a big question mark about whether I can continue to do that.
Brexit has really polarised public opinion in the UK. There’s a section of society that’s becoming more insular and inward-looking and xenophobic, and I think that’s bad for the country. The UK was never able to decide whether it wanted to be outside the tent pissing in or inside the tent pissing out, so for 40 years it’s been half-in, half-out and pissing over everyone. It has changed my view, because I don’t think the UK was ever a good partner in Europe. Maybe from a European perspective it’s better that the UK has left.
The reality is we’re heading towards a no-deal Brexit because the UK government has set itself up to fail. It set out a negotiating position which it knows the European Union will never accept. The issues on the table now are the same ones that were on the table in 2016 when the people voted to leave. Jean-Claude Juncker talked about the UK having its cake and eating it, and I think that’s still the challenge, except that now Boris Johnson has burned down the bakery and is blaming the Europeans for the lack of bread.
I feel sorry for my children, because they could have gone to university in the UK as EU citizens. Now that opportunity has been taken away from them. They’re not eligible for dual nationality because they weren’t born in the UK and neither was I. I’ve got three nieces in the UK and again, they could have done Erasmus or gone to university in Europe. It’s really sad.
The beneficiaries are places like Amsterdam, because the European Medicines Agency and lots of companies have moved here from London. The financial service industry is already leaving. I think that the automotive industry in the UK won’t exist in 10 or 15 years.
As someone who specialises in operations and supply chains I look at these things quite closely and the reality is that the manufacturing supply chain for automotive will collapse. BMW’s got an engine part in Coles Hill, near where I lived in Coventry. They buy air filters from France, put them on engines in Coles Hill and ship those engines to Germany. That’s not going to happen if there’s a hard Brexit because of the tariffs and barriers to trade. Land Rover set up the production facility for their new Defender model in Slovakia. It’s happening already: death by a thousand cuts.
My brother works in pharmaceuticals in the UK and he says the same thing. If you’re a big drugs manufacturer you want to reach the markets where you make the most money, which is first of all the US and secondly the EU.
In the end the UK will cope with it.One of the upsides from a Brexiteer’s perspective is that they wanted to end migration from the European Union. Well, that will happen, because the UK will go into recession and nobody will want to move there any more. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the reduction in the value of sterling will make it an attractive place to go on holiday. It’s already 20% or 30% cheaper than when I first started coming to the Netherlands. So that’s a benefit for the UK tourism industry.
Brexit should be seen by the European Union as the canary in the coal mine. The EU has been incredibly successful in the last 40 or 50 years in creating peace and prosperity, but we’re seeing a rise in populism and that could lead to another country or countries leaving the EU.
We’re living in very uncertain times and coronavirus is adding to that uncertainty. Brexit has shown that there are people who have a problem with the European Union, and if we want to avoid the Dutch leaving, or the Poles or anyone else, they need to work out what to do differently in the next 50 years.’
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