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'The UK's respect for differences made it our home, but Brexit means we're leaving'

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International affairs and advocacy expert Andreea Petre-Goncalves moved to the UK in 1997, attracted by its culture of openness and diversity. But as she tells our policy specialist Harry Marven, recent events have necessitated a major rethink - and relocation - of her family's plans for the future.





We’ve barely mentioned the ‘B’ word here at the Harris Hill blog, because we’re too busy recruiting for charities, and with such a colourful range of opinions widely available elsewhere (particularly at the puce end of the market), you probably don't need ours too.

We aim to be impartial, so for example it's not for us to question that what people thought three years ago is obviously more important than what they think now. That's just not how we roll. And you'd certainly never catch us querying the wisdom of trashing your biggest trade partnerships and international standing for such undeniable benefits as…… well, we’re sure somebody will think of one eventually.

But this week, as our established work in the area of Policy, Advocacy & Campaigns expands to keep up with growing demand (check out our new page here!) in what could yet be our last week in the EU (again), there's no ignoring the giant Brexit in the room. So we're very pleased to bring you an enlightening and thought-provoking read from someone who understands both the bigger picture and the personal consequences only too well...








Meet Andreea Petre-Goncalves

Over recent years in the UK we’ve heard a lot of statistics about EU citizens and ‘migrants’, but rather less of the real effects on people's everyday lives.

To that end we're delighted to introduce international affairs and advocacy expert Andreea Petre-Goncalves, who has kindly shared her story in conversation with our resident policy specialist Harry Marven, eloquently explaining how the 2016 referendum has affected many EU citizens, why she and her family have taken the difficult decision to leave the country that's been home for over 20 years, and why she's establishing a new and potentially highly-influential NGO to step up the fight for global change.


Andreea Petre-Goncalves is an international affairs and advocacy expert with two decades of experience in the non-profit, public and private sectors.

She has worked in sustainability, food security, international development, public health, gender and human rights among many other topics. She has driven global policy developments, built international partnerships and connected power and knowledge brokers to promote the greater good.

She believes people at all levels are driven by the same instincts, fears and desires and that the best in all of us can be harnessed through respectful and purposeful collaboration. She also believes that our future security and prosperity on our planet depend on our ability to see beyond our myriad of individual interests with a sense of common







Harry Marven joined Harris Hill in 2017 and is our specialist for all Policy, Public Affairs, Advocacy and Campaigns vacancies, recruiting both domestically and internationally.

He’s lived and worked in both France and Germany (graduatingin French and German) and has first-hand experience of the field having previously worked in social media and youth engagement for a national human rights charity. 

Harry is passionate about the not-for-profit sector using its profile and resources to effect positive social change and effectively represent its grassroots supporters, and understands both the rewards and what it takes to make change happen. As such he’s able to draw on a wide network of both national and internationally-based contacts.


► Harry: So, to jump straight into things: you, with your family, will be leaving the UK this year. Why do you want to leave, and is it definite that you’ll be leaving?

► Andreea:Yes, my family are leaving the UK this year. It’s not been an easy decision. I arrived in the UK in 1997 and my husband in 2002. Our daughter was born here in 2014. We did not doubt this was our forever home until the 2016 Brexit referendum. That particular moment crystallised for us concerns which had been bubbling under the surface for a few years, particularly around nativist trends in the UK and what we saw as a backlash against multiculturalism.

For us, this struck at the heart of why we were here in the first place. We didn’t necessarily choose the UK for economic reasons, but for cultural ones. It was precisely the UK’s culture of openness and respect for differences that appealed to us. We loved the idea of growing roots and raising a family in a country where ethnicity, culture and identity were not barriers to belonging, where the rich tapestry of human differences was embraced and cherished. We are ourselves a multicultural family, with heritage in Portugal, Romania and France, and have always seen our journey in the UK as an illustration of the richness of our wonderful, interconnected world.

It was and is heart-breaking to see these values rejected so vocally in public discourse. In 2016, we suddenly became EU migrants, a distinct category that 'othered' us.  It marked a sharp change of tone and hardening of attitudes towards us as a group – something we had not really seen ourselves as until then.

The very word 'migrant' was rarely present in public discourse 10 years ago. Nowadays it is a frequent feature, even replacing 'refugee', alarmingly. For me it has such negative connotations. We are not an invasion, nor an infection. We are friends, colleagues, family - and until the 12th of April, whatever the UK’s final trajectory, we are your equals as fellow EU citizens.

You’ve been in the UK for several decades now and have held predominantly internationally-focused jobs. Why did you come to the UK in the first place, and were there any standout factors that made you want to stay? 

I came to the UK aged 16 with an Open Society Foundationscholarship which shaped who I am and defined my life journey. A few scholarships later, with financial and moral support from my family and dear friends, I obtained my first degree. I embarked on a career that for many years was driven mostly by a loose sense of wanting to do good in the world. This is how I ended up working on sustainability, international development, gender, agriculture and food security.

My Brussels stint, about 10 years ago, was career-defining in that it taught me how to navigate politics and the decision-making environment and be effective. Idealism and good intentions are worth so much more if you also understand the real world. Interestingly, this is something that is stubbornly ignored by the non-profit sector in the UK, where we take too much comfort in surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals and work on the assumption that we will be heard purely because we mean well.

As for the second part of your question, I touched on this a bit earlier. The UK always felt like home culturally, and for me that includes a working culture that is earnest and professional. The only aspects where I felt Europe compared favourably career-wise are work-life balance and the employer-employee dynamic, where in Europe we have a more equal, revolutionary tradition, whereas in the UK the relationship often feels more deferent and feudal. I hope for everyone’s sake that this dynamic will not be further affected by any loss of worker protections as a result of Brexit.

Why did you choose to work in the charity sector, given your experience in the EU Parliament?

It would have been very easy to walk straight into a well-remunerated corporate lobbying job after my stint in EU politics. That is a common-sense career path for many former political staffers and civil servants.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with it, but I always knew that for me it wouldn’t be enough. I grew up in a family where politics and the good society were talked about passionately around the dinner table. My parents dedicated their entire careers to public service. I worked in the non-profit sector both before and after Brussels for the simple reason that it felt like a place where doing right by people and planet was the top priority.

So, after all that time, you’re now leaving the UK to pastures new. Given that you have decided to leave, rather than having it as just an option, would you say Brexit has, in an ironic way, given you the motivation and freedom to flexibly look for a new position, wherever you settle? To play devil’s advocate: has Brexit potentially been beneficial to you and your family?

Well, there’s the famous adage that every cloud has a silver lining. I don’t really think that’s true. Some things are plain stupid, pointless and thoroughly negative. There’s no bright side to climate change, war or hunger, except for the truly cynical. All we can do is learn from every hurdle, hiccup or failure.

For my family, the learning in Brexit is that we are free, that our sense of belonging doesn’t come from a place but from how we feel. That’s a phrase made for Private Eye’sPseud’s Corner right there, but it’s true. We feel like citizens of the world, which means we are at home everywhere, irrespectively of mean-spirited high-level statements to the contrary (ahem). We will always love Britain, and no one can legislate against that.






Two questions in one: what advice would you give to EU nationals living in the UK who are facing similar problems to the ones you have faced; and what advice would you give to UK nationals to assure EU nationals that the UK is still OK to live and work in? (although I appreciate the irony of the latter point!)

Well, I don’t have a piece of advice for all EU folk in the UK, we are all different and our own individual realities shape the decisions we make. For me, the idea of becoming a sort of 'tolerated', lesser citizen with permission rather than the right to live here was more than I could accept.

I know so many others like me, who have built lives and careers in the UK and find the prospect of asking for permission to continue living here profoundly offensive. However, I also understand those friends who do not feel it fair to throw away the lives they have built for themselves. They have no choice but to jump through the hoops, albeit reluctantly.

As for all of our UK friends, I am sure of one thing. Our friendship and love for each other will endure whatever history throws at us. British wisdom, decency and fairness will prevail and if they don’t, you will always be welcome in our homes on the old continent. Thanks for sharing yours with us.

Finally, what’s next for you?

I feel grateful that for us this otherwise strange time is the beginning of a new adventure, rather than just a painful rupture. We are relocating to Brussels, feeling more European than we have ever done, funnily enough. We’re clearly not immune from Brexit tribalism!

Together with a brilliant friend and skilled political expert, I am setting up a new organisation to broker and catalyse powerful, impactful dialogue on the burning issues at the top of the global agenda: climate change, food system reform, protecting democracy and strengthening the rules-based international system, among others.

With decades of experience at the highest levels of power and a lot of influential contacts, we are better placed than most to bring together those who can make change happen, from all sectors and walks of life. We will help key actors create solutions so that we can all enjoy the safe and sustainable future we want. The time has come for powerful action – and our new organisation will focus on doing just this. None of us can really afford to stand by and watch our existing systems fail when so many grave dangers threaten our world.

We would very much like to be a voice and advocate for our UK friends in Europe and beyond, to ensure Brexit does not diminish your input when urgent global challenges require it most. Look out for Flarein the coming weeks and please reach out to us and remain connected to those who, like you, are fighting for a better world, on whichever side of the Channel we might find ourselves.

Andreea Petre-Goncalves          Connect with Andreea on LinkedIn




We certainly will:  our sincere thanks to Andreea for sharing her story with us, and we wish her the very best of luck!

Look out for more insight and experience from our network in this field coming soon; meanwhile if you'd like to know more about our work and opportunities in political campaigning, advocacy, human rights and more, visit our Policy, Advocacy & Campaignspage or contact Harry Marvenvia email or on020 7820 7324.


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