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The University of Southampton
Public Policy|Southampton
Graphics by Lindsay Noble Design
Graphics by Lindsay Noble Design

About the project

This pilot project from the University of Southampton was led by Dr Sara Benedi Lahuerta (Law School) and Dr Ingi Iusmen (Politics Department), with the research assistance of Dr Beata Rek, Ms Justyna Jonak and Ms Alexandra Patrick. The project ran between January 2018 and March 2019 and collected data on the experiences on Polish nationals in Southampton in the periods: 2014-15 and 2016-17.


Since the late 1990s, populist discourse based on anti-immigration sentiments have been on the rise in Britain, with such feelings being increasingly expressed even among the elite and the political establishment. Evidence suggests that this phenomenon reached a peak during the Brexit Referendum (BR) campaign and shortly thereafter (Home Office 2016; Looney 2017) and that the Brexit  vote has normalized racism and daily micro-aggressions (Cohen and Page 2018).


This purposefully designed empirical project investigated changes in the vulnerability of EU nationals in the UK as a consequence of the BR campaign and vote. Through the evidence gathered we investigated not only changes in objective vulnerability (i.e. linked to external events such as hate incidents or discrimination explicitly based on the individual’s national origin), but also changes in subjective vulnerability (i.e. individuals’ feelings of anxiety, fear and insecurity due to the perceived risks of experiencing racially-motivated hate incidents or institutional discrimination).

Key findings and dissemination

According to our project evidence, this Poles’ objective and subjective vulnerability increased significantly as a consequence of the new realities brought about by the Brexit vote. While our analysis is based on the case study of the Polish community in Southampton, related research and data suggest that these experiences may be representative for a large proportion of EU nationals residing in the UK.

The project results were disseminated through a policy workshop (‘Brexit and Polish Nationals in Southampton: sharing experiences’) with key local and national stakeholders, held, which took place at the University of Southampton on 28 January 2019, through a policy paper (available below) and an academic article (submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, currently under review).

Our funders and acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the funding support from the Strategic Interdisciplinary Research Development Fund (FBLA-SIRDF) from the (former) Faculty of Business, Law and Art (University of Southampton), from the Centre for Law, Policy and Society (CLPS) from the University of Southampton (Law School) and from the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account at the University of Southampton.

 We would also like to thank the participants of the policy workshop for their feedback and comments on our findings and recommendations, as well as Prof. Charlotte O’Brien, for contributing to the workshop, and to Jo Hazell, for her help with the logistics. Thanks are also due to our research assistants Dr. Beata Rek, Justyna Jonak and Alex Patrick for their invaluable help at different stages of the project, to Dr. Miguel Flores for his generous support with the quantitative analysis, and to PublicPolicy@ Southampton for their advice and help with the dissemination of our work. Finally, we are extremely grateful to all the survey, focus groups and interview participants, for sharing rather intimate personal experiences and feelings; without their contribution this project would not have been possible.


If you have further questions about the project, you can contact us by sending an email to

This project has received ethical approval from the Ethics Research Committee of the Faculty of Business, Law & Arts of the University of Southampton with the reference number: 40026.


Polish Vulnerability Report
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