Why Brexit is dangerous for everyone – not just EU citizens

Why Brexit is dangerous for everyone – not just EU citizens

Members who came along to listen to Nicola Braganza at Prospect’s event

Isabelle Colas, a barley research scientist at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, explains why she is feeling angry and depressed


The latest Brexit moves from the prime minister and his home secretary, Priti Patel, are quite worrying and, I believe, discriminatory.

On 18 August, we learnt that freedom of movement is to end from 31 October. Is this realistic? Can the government actually do this?

Are they going to chase us down at home and send us back to where we came from? How are they going to bring their own citizens ‘home’ by 1 November?

If this is true, I will have to cancel my trip to France for which I had been invited to be an external examiner of a PhD viva to make sure that I don’t put myself at risk of being locked out. (A PhD viva is basically an interview or discussion with two examiners – an internal examiner from your university and an external examiner from a different university who is an expert in that field.)

I have no home in France because I left more than 14 years ago. As I do not have an address in France, I cannot have a bank account. I do not have a life in France – my life is here.

Salary thresholds and science funding

Just one week ago, a right wing think tank urged the home secretary to make the minimum wage for visa applicants at least £36,700.

The majority of scientists do not earn this, most of them are postdocs. At the James Hutton Institute, our postdoc salaries start at about £30,000. What about technical staff, visiting students and other workers?

And anyway, who wants to come to a place that does not welcome EU citizens (or any immigrant) and where funding is decreasing?

Our science budget is decreasing and will go down more.

We won’t be eligible for EU funding (certainly not with a no deal and until we have a new agreement in place with the EU) and research council funding is expected to decline too.

Why does the prime minister think that top scientists will want to come to the UK if funding opportunities are limited and employers have a load of hassle every time they need employ someone? If you want to see how the world currently sees the UK, take some time to read this article from the Guardian.

What next?

My next question is: What will the government announce next week?

Reports from the Mail Online claim EU citizens will have to show a proof of residency or a utility bill in order to get free treatment from the NHS.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that EU citizens currently living in the UK before or on October 31 will still be able to access free healthcare on the NHS after 31 October. But I am not reassured.

Will EU citizens have to pay more tax? Or pay more for childcare or their pensions?

Maybe we will have to get a specific driving licence that will have to be renewed at an excruciating price every year.

Perhaps they will decide that we cannot access British citizenship – or strip it from people who already have it.

In a world where xenophobia is the new normal, I fear they will come up with more ideas to make our lives difficult.

The government doesn’t seem to have a plan for anything such as keeping our industries safe (see the job cuts in the car industry); protecting our supplies of medicines; importing goods or making new deals with other countries.

But for the past three years, they have come up with a lot of detail when it comes to EU citizen immigration.

What is happening is just wrong and this is not the UK that I know. This is something else and is dangerous for everyone.

Isabelle Colas

Isabelle Colas


  • Many thanks for this article. I do think that Brexit is wrong for so many reasons. I share a lot of the anxiety you touch upon, and I hope the parting will be as amicable as possible and neither side will resort to "revenege" administrative chicanery on the citizens of the other side. Anyhow, I just wanted to pick out your uncertainty of whether you would be allowed back in after 31 October. Allegedly (and I suppose with the government's track record on preparing for it this is now the customary opener for any comment), if you have your Indefinite Leave to Remain (aka Settled Status), there shouldn't be any problem with it, or so it says in the accompanying letter confirming your status, once achieved.

    To be fair, I have to say that the application worked almost extremly efficently (just make sure that when you take the photo of your passport there is no glare on any part of the photo; in the end I had to send in my passport, otherwise the entire process would have been sorted entirly remotely) and only took 5 days from start to finish. I even received the repayment of the £65 as promised, but I did all that before the end of March during the test period, so that fee is now no longer applied and should make the process even easier.

    So, if you have ILR sorted, your trip should not be a problem. I bet, though, they will ask searching questions when you come back through customs, just because they can.



    Joern Schuster

    21 August 2019 11:53

  • It's not the country I know or want either, Isabelle.

    Andrew Gordon Murdoch

    21 August 2019 13:40

  • I am a committee Brexit supporter and object to any of your frequent misrepresentations of your undemocratic opinions.  SUPPORT OUR WISHES 



    Michael John Miles

    21 August 2019 16:39

  • Isabelle. Thank you for making your home in the UK: I have no doubt you have made a positive contribution to this country, and maybe the wider world. I hope that, at least until recently, you feel positive about living here – I’m disappointed that you now feel angry and depressed.

    In 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU, and this must be respected.  There are several aspects to leaving the EU, with regaining control of our borders one of them: this means that we will be in a similar position to that of most other countries around the world.  Currently, we have unfettered access from other EU countries, and a high barrier to entry from non-EU countries. After we have left the EU, we can decide who can stay irrespective of their nationality. The proposed minimum salary of £30k is the discriminator (I ignore what the CSJ say as think tanks can urge what they like, but it’s Government policy that counts). As it stands, this is too crude. It may be one way to qualify entry, but where people have skills that are in demand, or for highly-qualified people, these factors should be taken in to account.  Importantly, whether that person is from France or the Philippines should have no impact.

    To address your concerns, no one is going to chase you down and send you back to where you came from, and there is no reason to cancel your trip to France.  However, if you haven't already, you should apply to the EU Settlement Scheme – it is free.  If our positions were reversed, I would have needed to apply for a Residence permit in France from the town hall long ago, even if we were in the EU.

    I welcome the new Prime minister’s announcement on making the UK a world leader in science, engineering and technology, increase in Tier 1 visas and drive for improved Broadband coverage for all.  However, talk is cheap so I look forward to this being backed up by actions and, where appropriate, money.

    I don’t know what the government will announce next week, but if I didn’t want to wait, I certainly wouldn’t be checking the Mail or Express.  I’m not sure why you pay more credence to their reports than what the relevant government department says. If you don’t believe them, I don’t know what standard of proof you require.

    As for your questions on whether EU citizens will pay more tax or for pensions etc., this is nonsensical scaremongering on your part. Do you have any evidence for this? By asking whether you’ll be denied or stripped of British citizenship, you’re completely devaluing your arguments: no politician within sight of power is remotely suggesting such things.  Finally, I’d dispute that xenophobia is the new normal: the UK is increasingly tolerant and diverse, and more so than the rest of the EU. As an example, unlike many other EU Parliaments, the UK has no anti-immigrant Nationalist MPs.

    There may be some challenges ahead, particularly if the EU refuses to amend the Withdrawal Agreement, but I am hopeful and optimistic for a post-Brexit UK.

    Andrew Walker

    21 August 2019 21:41

  • The average Government minister has no concept of living on less than £36 000 a year. Something they would never have experienced! 

    We all have concerns about life in the UK after leaving the EU but again the Government ministers will not feel the effects and even if they lose their jobs, will walk into a non-exec or 'advisory' role in the private sector and their next wage will be comfortably above £36 000 so they will probably be allowed to stay.

    George T Hicks

    27 August 2019 13:32

  • I feel I need to respond to your blog Isabelle as someone who lived in the UK as an immigrant for over 10years before I decided to start on the process of becoming a British citizen. 

    First let me assure you that you have nothing to be afraid of. 

    1. No one chases you down the streets to send you back. Even if you contravene immigration rules, the maximum you get is a letter asking you to report to an immigration centre until you case is resolved. And I have many friends who went through that process. 
    2. As an immigrant, you can travel whenever and wherever you want, as long as your papers are in order. 
    3. Any changes to immigration rules only ever apply to future application and those just coming in. If you're already here and have a process ongoing, changes don't apply to you. Many changes came in during my process to becoming a British Citizen (over a period of 6 years), most didn't apply to me because I started my process so long ago. 
    4. One of the goals of Brexit I believe is to make Britain more inclusive. Many top scientists over the years have complained about being excluded from the UK because EU citizens were preferred over them - well this should open up that process, so everyone has the same opportunities extended to them. If those in the EU won't come, those in the commonwealth and other places will 
    5. All through my years as an immigrant, I accessed the NHS for free. As long as you've been in this country longer than 1 year and have the right documentation, NHS is free. 
    6. I have also had the same driving licence as the rest of the UK for over 10 years now. You don't need a special driving licence and they're renewed every 10 years - same with every other person in the UK

    There is nothing to be frightened about. People just like to scare others. Learn as much as you can about life as an immigrant – ask people around you. Knowledge is power.

    Commonwealth countries even when not British can vote in the UK – and I know many of them who voted leave, contrary to what many people think or say. Simply because they believe it will open doors for more trade with commonwealth countries and because many have felt oppressed and side-lined by the EU for far too long.

    At the end of the day, if I didn’t suffer any of the things you outlined as a black African immigrant (and we do have it tougher than most), then be rest assured you won’t either.

    Adenike Ajene

    16 September 2019 16:16

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