Brexit myths seeping into UK public life

Published on August 07, 2017

As an EU citizen who has called the UK home for the past five years, I was alarmed this week to find language that I would normally associate with the Daily Mail appear in official NHS documentation.

On filling in a standard medical form, I found that, under the category of ‘country or residency’, the usual option of ‘EU citizen’ has been replaced with ‘Economic migrant (EU)’.

This is deeply concerning on multiple levels. For starters, it is simply incorrect that all EU citizens in Britain are economic migrants. Those expats working here for multinational companies and organisations, for example, are not economic migrants.

Nor do I consider myself – a highly qualified researcher specialising in, of all things, migration policy – to be an economic migrant. I am not here ‘in search of a better life’ or because the UK has economic opportunities superior to the rest of the EU. On the contrary, as GDP figures published this week demonstrate, the Eurozone is now growing twice as fast as the UK.

This pejorative label also stigmatises EU citizens and will only contribute to the rising feeling that we are not welcome here, and the gradual ‘Brexodus’ of the EU’s brightest and best talent from these shores.

Finally, even if the label were accurate and reasonable, the question naturally arises as to how this information is relevant to the workings of the NHS. At least until March 2019, EU citizens are entitled to the same NHS services at the same prices as UK citizens. Moreover, Theresa May has pledged to protect the rights of EU citizens even after Brexit. But the appearance of this label on NHS documentation tells us to expect the worst.

EU citizens have contributed greatly to this country, and nowhere more so than in the UK’s cherished NHS. Yet the language of the far right appearing in officially sanctioned documentation sends a powerful signal to EU citizens such as myself that, whoever we are and whatever we have contributed, we are now merely unwanted mouths to feed.

Mattia Toaldo is Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). ECFR is an award-winning international think-tank that aims to conduct cutting-edge independent research; provide a safe meeting space for policy-makers, activists and intellectuals to share ideas; ECFR builds coalitions for change and promotes informed debate about Europe’s role in the world.

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