Stockwell’s Little Portugal patrons dwindle after ‘Brexodus’, despite ease of settled status

By Rebecca Cook
March 4 2020, 14.40

A Portuguese restaurant owner has described how many of his regulars from Stockwell’s Little Portugal community have been driven off due to Brexit.

Fernando Marques, 50, has co-owned A Toca restaurant with his childhood friend and brother-in-law Gabriel de Jesus since 2002.

He first came to London when he was 18, from Viseu near Lisbon, prompted by one of his eight sisters who had emigrated two years prior.

When asked about the effect of Brexit on his business, Mr Marques said: “People talk about it in the restaurant. A lot of customers have gone home.

“Before Brexit, in Lambeth, I knew doctors and nurses who worked for the NHS, 20 to 30 people, who were the first Portuguese to leave.

“They worked at St Thomas’ Hospital, but they didn’t want to deal with Brexit.”

He describes how the summer months used to be his busiest but this was no longer the case in 2019, when he saw numbers level off.

Fellow Little Portugal restaurateur Diogo Duraef, 28, manages O Cantinho De Portugal. Regarding Brexit he said: “Initially there was an impact. People living here didn’t know what it actually meant and they thought ‘if I’m going to be kicked out of the country, I can’t go to a restaurant.’

“They have given so much to the country and now being told they’re not wanted. People are weighing up the costs of living here.

“My accountant works for a lot of Portugal businesses and said many are shutting up shop. Vendors in Portugal have increased their prices and smaller proprietors are getting the brunt of the cost.”

In A Toca, virtually everything served is imported from Portugal, including a variety of 89 different Portuguese wines.

The EU Settlement Scheme report, published January 16 by the Home Office, shows that Lambeth had the most applications under the EU Settlement Scheme of all south west London boroughs.

Mr Marques was one of the 39,040 Lambeth applicants who gained settled status in the UK after Brexit.

He described the process as quick and well-organised, and was emailed confirmation of his settled status two days after applying.

Mr Marques points to several different reasons for the ‘Brexodus’ of Portuguese nationals since the referendum, despite the ease of the EU settlement process: the weakened sterling and the uncertainty of the preceding years as well as the psychological effect of no longer feeling welcome in the UK.

When asked if Mr Marques would still move here now he said: “It’s difficult. Brexit doesn’t encourage people. It would be a lot harder now.”

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