Growing up in the northern suburbs of London, you realize quickly that the Greek-British in London have a firm position as a recognized and ever-growing community within the United Kingdom, and particularly in the London area.
A considerable number of Greek-British people have major business interests all around the city. Their contribution toward the skilled workforce of London has been, and continues to be, enormous.
They work in major insurance and banking firms in the City of London, in British public services, and own their own businesses.
But despite all these positives, since 2016 I have had a considerable number of E.U. nationals come to me with growing concerns about the situation regarding their status as “citizens” in this country post-Brexit. At one of my community meetings recently in my constituency, I had one such lady come to me with her son and ask me: “Will I be allowed to stay, or will they kick me out?”
It was at that moment I realized a growing concern, felt not only by Greek and Cypriot nationals living in the U.K. but by other E.U. nationals as well. I would like to give my views on what Brexit may mean for our communities here in the United Kingdom after Great Britain leaves the E.U.
We have a cast-iron guarantee from our prime minister that the state of E.U. citizenship will not affect our rights to live in the U.K. after we leave the European Union. In quoting a piece from Ta Nea, Theresa May explicitly noted that “I want to thank the 70,000 Greek citizens who chose to make Britain their home. We appreciate their significant contribution to our culture and society, our universities and our economy. They should know that we want them to stay in Britain as well as all the other E.U. citizens.”
The U.K. recognizes the necessity to have highly educated Greek nationals coming to the U.K. and making it their home. Just because Great Britain is leaving the E.U. does not mean Greek nationals will be discriminated against. I am actually optimistic in the face of pessimism, believing that Greeks will be preferred because of their educational levels and their history of integration in the U.K.
I also do not feel the U.K. will jeopardize the ability of Greeks here in the U.K. to stay in touch with their relations back home in Greece. This means that for a Greek person in the U.K., the possibility of visa restrictions or money-transfer restrictions between the two countries will be extremely rare. I say that as someone who, as a representative of my party, has not seen any evidence to suggest the U.K. is even thinking of imposing such restrictions in the future.
The U.K. is also home to almost 200 Greek churches and schools combined. We can argue that, compared to other nations, our established infrastructure enables Greek nationals to come to the U.K. and integrate, while still maintaining aspects of the Greek culture.
We have thriving communities around the UK. In my constituency of Southgate, for example, Greeks make up almost 20% of the population, and in neighboring Cockfosters the rate is almost 40%. If this is the state of our communities here, I’m sure Bayswater’s figure is even greater.
I am confident that Greeks will recognize that the U.K. is still “the place to go” in Europe, partly because of its excellent foundations for making us “feel at home”.
We also have a thriving Greek entrepreneurial energy here in the U.K. Last March, Mikel Coffee Community, a Greek franchise with 185 stores worldwide, opened up its first store in Bloomsbury. A few months earlier, Saucy Restaurants, another Greek franchise, opened two restaurants in London, bringing modern Greek cuisine to the market.
And for centuries, London has been a popular destination for Greek shipping tycoons, who set up regional headquarters here. Data from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics show that from 1999 to 2015, Greece was 31st in trade volume among the U.K.’s global trade partners, with a value of over 87 billion pounds.
Greece also ranks 31st in imports from the U.K., with over 38 billion pounds sold, and it ranks 30th in exports to the U.K., exporting over 48 billion pounds’ worth of commodities.
This positive balance of exports versus imports would imply that Greece would be among the E.U. member states to have a clear interest in pushing for a favorable trade deal with the U.K. in order to maintain the national income generated by exports to Britain.
I do want to reiterate that this is not the end of the Brexit process. It has not concluded, by any means. The issues are subject to change, and even the decision itself may not be concrete. The campaign called “People’s Vote” is gathering momentum, and people are increasingly skeptical of the true benefits of Brexit.
I want to make it clear, however, that should the 2016 vote go through, and we do leave, real impacts on the Greece-U.K. relationship are likely to be minimal. We can remain confident of our rights and communities in the U.K. in a post-Brexit world.
Stephanos Ioannou is a Conservative Party Councillor for Southgate in the London Borough of Enfield and is Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Greece Group. He currently studies Public Policy at Kings College in London.