Brussels Brits react in horror to Brexit: ‘What the hell went wrong?’

An England flag with the word 'sorry' on it was put up outside the European Commission. [Sam Morgan]

The vote for Brexit has come as a huge shock to the British people living and working in Brussels, who “branded it “insane”, “stupid”, and asked, “what the hell went wrong?” spoke to a selection of Brexpats, Brefugees, and Brexiles over the weekend. All strongly supported Remain and some are considering applying for citizenship in other EU countries.

Cécile Toubeau, is Belgian-British and 33-years-old. She said she was horrified and deeply saddened.

“I never thought this day would come. Like in a bad break-up I regret the last few months wondering what I could have done more of differently,” she said.

“I am fiercely proud of my English heritage but today my head is a little less high and my shoulders a little less proud.  I was brought up to be open and love honestly my follow citizens. Those who voted to leave have turned their back on the rest of the world.”

“It’s insanity”, said Colin Mackay, a small business owner who has been in Brussels for 13 years. “The only thing certain is the uncertainty. I certainly won’t go back to UK but I need a solution for the nationality issue; become Belgian or hope for a second independence referendum in Scotland and seek a Scottish passport. Either way, it’s a mess.”

Sophie Rasbash is 24. “A weird side note is also how this brought my family’s British identity into question,” she said.

“If Scotland does break away and my father decides to claim Scottish citizenship, it would mean giving up his Irish heritage. Suddenly he is facing a choice between a Northern Irish mother and a Scottish father. It’s a question that thousands are now mulling over and it’s a sign of these strange, scary, isolationist times.”

Sophie said, “Friday was a day for dismay, anger and a few too many pints. But come Monday, we will have to start sorting through this mess. No point wailing about how disappointing the Remain campaign was, or the half-facts and nonsensical statistics anymore.”

“We need to channel the frustration and make sure we don’t let all those shouting, angry fear mongers make this anymore painful than it has to be.”

A European Commission official, speaking anonymously, said, “People are really upset. Some tears were shed; some people were crying. It has really hit people hard, both Brits and non-Brits.

“For some they worry this is spelling the end of the EU, some Brits are wondering if it is the end of the UK. What the hell went wrong?”

Hugh Barton-Smith, 55, lived in Brussels for 12 years and France for 17. He said, “All continentals I know are very upset about this divorce, in which both sides lose badly. But even those who think Brussels needs to share the blame are just astounded at the mind boggling stupidity of so many British voters. So am I.”

Mark Johnston, policy analyst, 49, said, “More than anything else, I’m puzzled. Brits are still debating the issues. No letter has been sent from London to Brussels. Without a new prime minister in Number 10, it’s not even clear who’s in charge. We could be raking over this for a long time to come before anything really happens.”

Sam Morgan, 27, is a translator from Wales. After spotting the ‘sorry’ England flag outside the European Commission (see main pic), he put up a similar Welsh flag.

“An estimated 36% of 18-24 year olds voted on Thursday. Just over half of 25-34 year olds. Don’t feel ‘betrayed’ by the older generation; we sowed the seeds of our own destruction,” he said.

“I hope everyone is enjoying their new found control and sovereignty.”

  • Are you a British person in Brussels who voted for Leave? We want to hear from you. Email


Brexit threatens the UK, the EU and the economy

British voters today (23 June) chose to leave the European Union, sparking fears over the future of the EU, the UK, and the economy, and forcing the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Archived: Britain votes to leave the European Union

The United Kingdom on Thursday (23 June) voted to leave the European Union, in a result that is likely to rock the 28-country bloc. Follow EURACTIV's live feed for all the latest developments, as they happen.

Expats begin looking for Plan B after Brexit

Many Europeans have benefitted from the right to live and work across the EU. Large numbers of British and French citizens that have crossed the Channel are now worried about their future in their adopted home. EURACTIV France reports.

Subscribe to our newsletters