The politics of embedding and the right to remain in post-Brexit Britain

Sotkasiira, Tiina and Gawlewicz, Anna (2021). The politics of embedding and the right to remain in post-Brexit Britain. Ethnicities, 21(1) pp. 23–41.



The European Union membership referendum (i.e. the Brexit referendum) in the United Kingdom in 2016 triggered a process of introspection among non-British European Union citizens with respect to their right to remain in the United Kingdom, including their right to entry, permanent residence, and access to work and social welfare. Drawing on interview data collected from 42 European Union nationals, namely Finnish and Polish migrants living in Scotland, we explore how European Union migrants’ decision-making and strategies for extending their stay in the United Kingdom, or returning to their country of origin, are shaped by and, in turn, shape their belonging and ties to their current place of residence and across state borders. In particular, we draw on the concept of embedding, which is used in migration studies to explain migration trajectories and decision-making. Our key argument is that more attention needs to be paid to the socio-political context within which migrants negotiate their embedding. To this end, we employ the term ‘politics of embedding’ to highlight the ways in which the embedding of non-British European Union citizens has been politicized and hierarchically structured in the United Kingdom after the Brexit referendum. By illustrating how the context of Brexit has changed how people evaluate their social and other attachments, and how their embedding is differentiated into ‘ties that bind’ and ‘ties that count’, we contribute to the emerging work on migration and Brexit, and specifically to the debate on how the politicization of migration shapes the sense of security on the one hand, and belonging, on the other.

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