Research: Brexit causes divorces (and marriages!) of British-Finnish couples

Research: Brexit causes divorces (and marriages!) of British-Finnish couples


For some Finnish-British couples the Brexit process has even caused divorce. Many have relocated within the UK or moved from the country, show the preliminary results of cultural anthropologist and ethnographer Carol Brown-Leonardi’s research at the Open University. 

The 160 survey responses show that Brexit has had a life changing impact on some couple’s lives. For example, some who had lived together for a long time and didn’t plan to get married changed their minds to secure their and their children’s right to stay in the UK. On the whole, 10 percent of those taking part in the study had tied the knot. 

The Brexit politics has also driven a wedge between couples. As many as 7 percent of the respondents have divorced due to differences in opinion. 

“One of the respondents could not get over the fact that her husband was a Brexiteer. She felt extremely betrayed and decided to go for divorce.” 

Brexit has of course not affected all couples. In fact, 83 percent of the couples that took part in the study have stayed as they were. These couples largely share the same political views about Brexit and are united in their opinions about their future plans.

Another major consequence of Brexit has been the relocation of many British-Finnish couples outside of the UK. Brown-Leonardi placed further focus on 70 respondents to ask about their desire to move away from the UK. Initially 57 percent of these respondents had said that Brexit had no effect on their plans to live in the UK. However, within a span of six months they moved or were thinking about moving to either Finland or some other EU-country. 

One main reason was the political and social environment in the UK, which the respondents felt was hostile towards Europeans. They also felt that there were better work and education opportunities elsewhere in Europe. All in all, the Brexit politics brought extra stress into their daily lives, which made it more tempting to move out. 

The inspiration for the research topic stemmed from Brown-Leonardi’s own personal conversations. She talked extensively with people from various countries about the impact Brexit has had on their lives. Many were bewildered and distressed about the whole process. “Brexit is a process of ruptures. With every rupture there seems to be a significant impact on many sections of society. In this study I’m looking at what kind of impact it has on couples.” 

The choice of Finland as the examined nationality came from the researcher’s “love affair” with the country that grew from Brown-Leonardi’s own experience of living there. Brown-Leonardi wanted to give British-Finnish couples a voice during this historic event in British society. 

“I thought it was important to look at how the Brexit referendum re-energized discussions about citizenships and national identity and how the discourse around the referendum changed the space inside the home and also the community for these couples.” 

According to Brown-Leonardi, it is hard to say if Finns are reacting differently to Brexit when compared to other EU-citizens. She assumes that there are similarities in the worries people are experiencing, judging by the various conversations that she has had over the years with other EU-citizens. 

Brown-Leonardi plans to continue her research with interviews and eventually write a book on her research. 

“I want people to know the struggles these people are going through. Some of the impact is enormous. On the other hand you can see that some people are very strong. They have to go through a number of processes and they have to overcome quite a few situations as a result of the political discourse and influences that surround the idea of citizenship and migration.“


Text: Jenni Ahtiainen Illustration: Camilla Schleutker