Brexit referendum: it's also about love!

With the Brexit referendum looming, flandersnews went to Stonemanor, the British shop in Everberg, east of Brussels. The idea of a possible Brexit makes UK citizens living in Belgium a little bit nervous: "If we were to leave the EU, I would go for an Irish passport."

Stonemanor is a piece of Britain in Flanders, situated just outside the scenic town of Everberg, opposite green pastures and near the rolling hills of the Brabant countryside.

The Prinsendreef, a long green lane lined with trees, takes you straight from the N2 Brussels-Leuven trunk road to Everberg, in style. It could be a typical English lane, if it hand't been for the long stretch of cobblestones.

The red telephone booth outside the entrance is a clear sign: visitors are approaching British soil! The tea room  confirms the presence of the shop, which is well hidden behind stone walls.

"Patriotic romance.. but will it work?"

Barry - an Irish national but also involved - is running a mobile chip shop on the nearby parking site (photo below). "A vote for "out" would be pretty disastrous for both the EU and Britain. It would take time for the EU to recover."

It wouldn't be a good thing for Ireland either, says Barry, who's been living in Belgium for 9 years. "We are exporting more to the UK than to anywhere else." His message for Leave supporters? Barry makes a comparison with a relationship. You may have a crush on someone, but will it work in the long run? "This patriotic romance may be a nice idea. But will it work? Think of the consequences!"

"I don't want to give up my UK passport!"

It's BBC radio playing inside the shop. The only things reminding you that you're actually still in Belgium, are the clock (on CET) and the price tags in euros. Shop assistant Kyle is filling the dairy section.

"Whether I'm afraid of the outcome of the referendum? Yes, actually. I have a UK passport and Farage (leader of the anti-European party UKIP) already said that British citizens living outside Britain will have to surrender their British passport. But I don't want to give that up!"

Whether this will actually be the case, remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: it will bring uncertainty, and it may make things for British expats more complicated. This may also explain why we have difficulty finding Leave supporters.

"I met my partner thanks to the EU"

James is also a shop assistant. "I will have my mother vote by proxy. She will vote Remain for me. I think it would bring too many complications if we leave. The process will be a costly one. Okay, the EU needs reform, but is still has potential."

"My partner is Belgian. We met thanks to the EU freedom of movement for people! You know, a lot of people benefit from this freedom.  (...) I think that many British don't speak anything else than English, because this language takes them anywhere. But this also isolates them a little bit."

If voters come out with a majority for "out" in the referendum, what next? "Would I become a Belgian? I think I would apply for an Irish passport. My grandmother was Irish, so I could do it."

"It's not quite as hot as a topic as it should be"

Assistant manager Dan also has a personal reason: "If I hadn't lost track of time, I would have voted 'in'. I have a Belgian partner, and I would like the idea of the freedom of movement on the continent to stay."

Quizzed on whether customers in the shop are talking about the issue in the shop, he says "yes, a few are, but it's not quite as hot a topic as it should be. This is after all a once-in-a-lifetime vote and it will affect people, even if we are not sure how."

Dan thinks a Brexit may have an effect on his shop and the products in the shop. "To a point, yes. We don't know what the trade agreements will be, and what border controls there would be. And there is the issue of taxes. I also think that in the case of a Brexit, quite a few Brits could leave the area here. But it is more a wait-and-see case."

Generation gap?

Simon points to the gap between youngsters and older citizens. "There is a generation divide", he argues. "The older people want to leave, while the young want to remain. And yes, I agree with PM David Cameron when he says that if things are not perfect with the EU, it's better to fix them from the inside."

We continue our search for Leave supporters, but it proves fruitless. Although this does not mean that everyone is in the Remain camp. Some are just not interested, like John.

"Sorry, I have nothing to say to you guys. I am not following it at all! I haven't followed it on TV or radio for the radio for the past five years, so I have no opinion!" Living without the referendum stuff has a positive effect on him: "And you know, it makes me a lot happier!"