UK-based Estonians talk about how Brexit affects them ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Academic Mart Kuldkepp talking to ERR at UCL in London.
Academic Mart Kuldkepp talking to ERR at UCL in London. Source: ERR

Here at ERR News we have covered many of the eventualities which Brexit could impose on Estonia, particularly for Britons living in Estonia. However, until now we haven't looked at how it will impact Estonians living in the UK.

The number of Estonians living in the UK (according to the embassy over 9,000 officially, but likely to be in reality double that figure) far outstrips the number of Brits in Estonia.

ERR's Epp Ehand caught up with a few of them recently in London, so here is a vox pop of what was said.

Mart Kuldkepp, Professor of Scandinavian Studies at University College London (UCL) is already ahead of the game, having gone through a pilot program for EU citizens, who number around 3 million living and working in the UK, and now has resident status.

Estonians have a thicker skin?

''This process [ie. of getting residency] happened electronically, which was almost like being in Estonia,'' said Mart, who says he has not felt any of the supposed hostility to foreigners reported in the media and attributed to the break with Europe.

''I couldn't say I've felt unwanted or unneeded here, but saying that, there are plenty of people who have come here for whom it's been a big shock and have seemingly received such a clear signal from the get go. I think that probably Estonians are a bit thicker skinned than some western Europeans,'' said Mart, explaining why he feels as he does.

Architect Arseni Timofejev reports a similar experience, though says he has one thing to get squared away before the 29 March Brexit deadline, namely to get his certification recognised in Estonia.

''Getting to be an architect in the UK took nine years and involved a lot of bureaucracy, so I hop that I can quickly get my qualification recognised in Estonia too, while the two countries are still in the same union,'' he said.

Don't panic!

On the very same evening of the UK government's Brexit vote on 15 January, Estonian folk dance rehearsals are in progress in London, in preparation for the summer's song festival in Tallinn. Sales workers Anna Lindre and Madis-Mikk Remmet say that they await the ultimate decision calmly and without major worries.

''I feel very relaxed,'' said Anna, a shop manager.

''I've lived here 14 years, I've been a taxpayer, and I'm not fretting about what's been going on; probably, nothing will change for me,'' she went on.

Madis-Mikk, a sales manager, is of the same mind, and said that his only real concern is any effects of a weakened pound, if he goes on holiday anywhere in Europe.

''We'll see what happens and, as the London mayor might say, 'keep calm and carry on','' said Madis-Mikk, something reflected in a T-shirt slogan he has printed: ''keep calm and dance, folks''.

Residency rights

The Estonian Embassy in London keeps Estonians updated with practical information online and via other channels, and the UK Government has also promised to guarantee the rights of EU citizens if a no-deal Brexit comes to pass.

Should it end up being no-deal, even then there shouldn't be problems given that promise, although it may be necessary for EY citizns to apply for UK residence, something which Mart Kuldkepp has already done via a pilot program as noted.

''The pilot program was available to academic employees in Britain, as well as health care workers, identified as particularly at-risk and vulnerable group, so this was done to assuage fears. It was quite simple too, it took me about 15 minutes,'' said Mart.

He also related what a great academic environment London is, with its various colleges, libraries and other facilities.

So, all told, Brexit hasn't been too much of a downer for him, and neither has it been for Arseni Timofejev.

''Of course, the situation and a lack of clarity on what is going to happen next is more than just a cause for concern, but I hope that everying will be resolved soon. In general I am not very worried,'' he said.

Brexit process itself tiresome

Madis-Mikk Remmet echoed his sentiments: ''We live in an era where people can't just be thrown out of a country just like that,'' he said.

Of the actual Brexit process, referendum, followed by two years of negotiations, followed by deal, then deal rejection, some of those interviewed were less equivocal, however.

''This would have been a lot better if I hadn't been personally affected, then I might have looked at it from afar in Estonia as some sort of circus,'' said Arseni.

''They [ie. the government] don't seem to know what they're doing, so now I'm quite sceptical about whether there is going to be a positive outcome from all of this, either for the UK or the EU,'' said Mart Kuldkepp.

A 'plan B' Brexit deal, which asked for concessions on the so-called Irish backstop issue, was rejected by Brussels on Tuesday. The deadline for the UK's withdrawal is 29 March, assuming an extension, under section 3 of Article 50 of the EU treaty, is rejected.

The original interviews (in Estonian) are here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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