I’m always late to the party. Less than two weeks after prime minister Theresa May invoked Article 50 to begin the process of taking the UK out of the EU, I became a British citizen. After 15 years on this island, I thought it was time. To my surprise I felt strangely emotional and excited when I first received a letter saying I was approved for citizenship – which isn’t very British of me, come to think of it. I clearly need to work on my stiff upper lip.

But despite the emotional resonance that a new citizenship holds, it was more of a practical decision. There were a lot of reasons for me to get a UK passport – not least to simplify travel issues and cut down on long wait times going through the ‘foreigner’ queue at Heathrow – yet what finally prompted me to undertake this administrative headache after years of putting it off was Brexit. While in theory there is no reason the UK leaving the EU would threaten the residency rights of a US citizen with full legal rights to remain here, the past year of global politics has proved that anything is possible and nothing is certain. So I wanted to solidify my status and ensure that no sudden legislative changes could see me expelled.


I’m far from the only one. It seems that every non-UK citizen I know in London is scrambling to get permanent residency or citizenship; or, going the other way, making plans to leave entirely of their own volition (a case of jumping before you’re pushed, I suppose). Meanwhile, many British nationals are scrambling to get European passports to protect their rights to live and work in Europe should Brexit see freedom of movement restricted. Everyone with an Irish granny or continental spouse seems to be going for dual nationality these days.

What all this suggests is a vast sense of unease and uncertainty unleashed by Brexit, the consequences of which ripple across the UK’s large immigrant population and cast a shadow of doubt over the many foreign workers employed by all manner of sectors here. With human capital lying at the heart of FDI attractiveness, and foreign talent accounting for a significant chunk of the UK workforce, these individual anxieties and decisions over whether to put down stronger roots in the UK, or abandon ship, have a vast knock-on effect on business and industry.

There are also clear parallels with how foreign companies might also choose to react to Brexit. Some will be incentivised to increase their footholds in the UK, if this is seen as a solid home base or a crucial market for them. Others will spread their odds by putting one foot in the UK and one in an EU country. And some others might give up on the UK entirely. How big of a share each of those groups accounts for in the end will shape the UK’s future as an FDI destination. 

Courtney Fingar is editor-in-chief of fDi Magazine. Email: courtney.fingar@ft.com