How do Czechs living in the UK perceive and experience Brexit? Our team from the Institute of Sociological Studies at Charles University in Prague tries to understand these questions through interviews that we have been conducting since spring 2020- despite our hopes so far only online. In the first blog post of the Czech team, we will describe the main paradox of our work and our findings.
In fall 2020 halfway through our research, it seemed that there is nothing to do research about at all. None of the Czechs with whom we talked thought that Brexit will influence their lives and they had not much to say about it.
Czech migration to the United Kingdom is much less visible than Polish migration in scale and in impact. According to an estimation of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were less than 100 000 thousands Czech citizens living in the UK in 2019. Therefore Czechs are not that visible or compact group among migrant communities in the UK and also their issues are not paid much political attention in the Czech republic.
However, Czechs create a digital community on social media that we use to recruit our interview partners. The recruiting process was smooth (meaning that we posted an announcement that we would like to speak with Czechs about their experience of Brexit)- people that fit all our categories (gender, education, region) were willing to speak with us. During spring and fall 2020 we spoke with fifteen men and women who had lived in the UK for between two and nineteen years. Independently from what was their education or career in the Czech Republic they worked in the UK as au-pairs, flight attendants, caregivers or psychotherapists and lived in cities across the United Kingdom.
No matter what was their profession, length of residence or marital status they felt that Brexit was not a crucial topic for their lives and they did not expect any important changes. “The queues at the borders might be longer, but otherwise I do not expect any changes for me,” said Káťa, an accountant living in Birmingham. “After I got my settled status I stopped following news about Brexit,” said Lucie, who works as a caregiver in Scotland.
Reason, why Czechs were not worried or even interested in the changes, might be that all of them declared that they had moved to the United Kingdom because they wanted to live outside the Czech Republic and all of them genuinely liked British culture, lifestyle and believed in British political system and British multiculturalism. Their positive and self-assured position was a matter of trust in British politicians that they will at the end solve the question and also trust in their place in the British society that these politicians will protect.
Therefore Czech migrants downplayed the negative experience that they had after Brexit. “Some drunk man shouted at me one evening at the bus stop, that I should go home,” Káťa told me. “One customer was murmuring about too many migrants in England” recollect Jakub, who is working in a betting agency in South England. But they both refused to interpret the stories as harmful for them or that it was a sign of a shift in the public atmosphere. “It was only once and he was drunk, you can´t take things like this seriously” or “At the end, he turned out to be a nice man and we had a laugh together”. Both these interview partners together with others believe that the United Kingdom is a more tolerant country than the Czech Republic, they enjoy its multicultural nature and therefore they tend to overlook experiences that do not fit into this perception.
What was specific about the first stage or our research that the interview was speculative rather than descriptive, “What will you do if…?” “Do you have plans?” “What do you think Brexit will look like?”
In the next few months, we will go back to some of the interview partners and will look for new ones to describe how they actually went through the Brexit process and how their life looks like now.