Anxiety, Brexit And The Future Of You

Poor Theresa May. You have to admit it’s been a rough couple of weeks for her. Terror attacks, calamitous fires, a snap election that backfired and now the anguished negotiations over the fate of 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and 1.5 million living in Europe. However, let’s put May’s feelings aside for a moment. How is all of this uncertainty making millennials and Generation Y feel? I cannot remember a time in recent memory when a political situation has displaced so many people psychologically. With Britain’s decision to leave the EU a year ago today, it has created somewhat of a vacuum, leaving many skilled migrants feeling uneasy and unsettled.

May has emerged from the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels in her first chess move saying that, “any EU citizens that have been in Britain for five years will retain their full rights.” But some disagree with the vagueness of her sentiment, with co-chair of the 3million campaign Nicolas Hatton stating that the proposed deal, “is neither fair nor serious.”

This ‘questionable’ deal has the potential to affect so many of us. It’s not just those working in the gig economy, temporary contracts or unskilled migrants. It’s everyone who is on the payroll. It’s the non-UK EU citizens married to UK citizens. It’s the 18-35-year-old professionals who have come to enjoy the benefits of a bustling economy working in all types of industries. It’s all those people that want security for their future. Granted, gone are the days of the dream of 2.1 kids and a white picket fence, spending 40 years in the same job. Global citizens now have the ability to carve out a path that includes racking up frequent flier miles, starting their own business, or even flirting with 6-7 jobs and then thinking about eventually going back to their home country. But droves of citizens of other European Union countries have been leaving the UK regardless, with new government data showing that 117,000 citizens of other European Union countries left Britain in 2016, an increase of 36% over the previous year. Net migration from the EU fell to 133,000 last year from 184,000 in 2015. Remember, 13,000 EU citizens work in the NHS. What will be their fate?

The after-effects of Britain’s decision to leave the EU are still being felt by many and still to come. We spoke to Robyn Vesey, an organisational psychologist from Tavistock Consulting, who told us, “As the negotiations get underway it is likely that public services and other workplaces where there are a number of non-UK EU citizens will experience team stress which can show itself in the form of sickness, high turnover and less effective communication/team working.”

Part of this is due to the ability to understand the situation going on around us – an info war without the information. Let’s be honest, if you were to ask any colleague or friend what a hard or soft Brexit means, no one really knows.

At this stage, I’d even guess that the Tories would have a hard time answering it. Most people see this pressing issue as a work in progress, probably catching the Conservatives off guard as well, working out the answers as they go along. The spotlight now turns to negotiations in Brussels and what deal Theresa May and Angela Merkel flesh out for the rest of us. A reciprocal agreement is much needed, especially for the 1.5 million British citizens living in the E.U. after the post-2019 period. But with the added threat of random terror attacks and the feeling that Britain has become a country of xenophobes, what will the 3 million EU citizens in the UK do?

It’s like a young child watching their parents get divorced, a witness to the hard contractual negotiations that fester inside a union. It causes psychological damage to some.

For some, closure can’t come soon enough. To even have a decision which says you need to leave is better than sitting on the sidelines having some people decide your future. The irony is not lost on us. For the millions of migrants looking for a better life, drowning to find one even, a potential cascade of new dispossessed migrants could be added to that number. How many of us have turned a blind eye to this, preferring to ignore the situation until an actual decision is made?  So if you’re either on the phone to your lawyer, employer or psychologist, the main advice I would give is to embrace the unsettling future and take a deep long breath.

This column was written by editor of 52 Insights Ari Stein