surinenglish

Brits in Spain await Brexit talks outcome

Sue Wilson with Alistair Campbell.
Sue Wilson with Alistair Campbell. / J.R.
  • Article 50 was triggered within a week of celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome

The UK officially triggered Article 50 on Wednesday, meaning that proceedings have started for the UK to leave the EU, rather ironically for some, on 1 April 2019.

Four days earlier, on Saturday, Rome was at the centre of celebrations, notably for the remaining 27 EU member countries. The date marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, one of the most significant documents in the evolution of the European Union, establishing it as the then European Economic Community (EEC).

A series of marches, the biggest being the Unite for Europe event in London, were organised to coincide with the celebrations in Rome and the Italian capital, as well as Madrid, also saw demonstrations against Brexit. Over 100,000 people attended the event in London and hundreds joined in Rome and Madrid to show their opposition to the UK's departure. The marches were also a message of solidarity towards the estimated 1.2 million Britons living in other European countries and the approximately three million Europeans living in the UK.

Among the participants at the London march were 50 members of the Spain-based Bremain in Spain group. Chair of the anti-Brexit movement, Sue Wilson, spoke at the march and joined big names in UK politics including the former leader of the Liberal Democrat party, Nick Clegg, and Alistair Campbell, former Downing Street Press Secretary.

In her speech Sue said, "The government is not acting in our best interests. It is not even listening to us - out of sight, out of mind. It is not even listening to the recommendations of its own Exiting the EU Select Committee. We are not bargaining chips or negotiating capital, nor are we trade or services - we are people."

Bremain in Spain estimates that far more Britons reside in Spain than the 308,821 that are officially registered and Spain is the country where most British expatriates, 30 per cent, live compared with other EU countries.

The group is also championing a petition, which must be signed by at least one million people across a minimum of seven member states, to ask the European Union to issue 'European Citizen' passports to the millions of Britons and other European citizens who are at risk of losing their rights post-Brexit.

Passport campaign

The European Citizens' Initiative is an EU scheme, established under the 2012 Treaty of Lisbon, which allows EU citizens to propose legislation. Bremain in Spain has used the initiative to launch the EU passport idea, Choose Freedom.

Existing EU legislation says the ability already exists (Regulation 1417/2013) for the EU to issue EU passports to diplomats and officials. The EU Commission has agreed that this form of passport, known as "laissez-passer", can be extended "on exceptional basis and upon due motivation, to special applicants". Britain in Europe announced in February 2017 that the Commission had "accepted that the Choose Freedom application was legally valid on this basis".

Currently, Britons, like other EU nationals living in Spain, are not entitled to dual citizenship and must fulfill a number of requisites in order to obtain Spanish nationality. The only nationalities that are eligible for dual passports are former Spanish colonies including the majority of south American countries, the Philippines, Equatorial Guinea and Portugal, as well as descendants of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were expelled from Spain.

While groups like Bremain in Spain are intent on campaigning for the rights of Britons abroad, The Three Million is a group lobbying for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. In her speech after invoking Article 50 on Wednesday, the prime minister Theresa May stated to MPs that it is her "fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country".

Concern among expats

However, despite these words and the reassurances on Wednesday of both British Ambassador in Spain Simon Manley and the Spanish Embassy in London, which set up a help desk for Spanish nationals living in the UK on the same day, residents say they are still extremely concerned about what will happen to them.

There is only anecdotal evidence at the moment that Britons really are selling up and moving back home, but a number of town hall foreigners' departments in Malaga province, including Benalmádena and Frigiliana have spoken to SUR in English about such cases.

However, many people have spoken out about their own personal situations. They include James Machonachie, whose three children were born and brought up in Aragón. "I don't feel English anymore," says the father of three who has started the lengthy process of applying for Spanish nationality. He has passed the language and general knowledge tests and is currently waiting for criminal records checks to come through from the UK.

Between January and June 2016, only 70 applications were made by British nationals to become Spanish but since the referendum the number has risen to 500.

Meanwhile Ireland has seen the biggest rise in applications for citizenship, as anyone from Northern Ireland or with proven Irish ancestry is eligible for an Irish passport, which would allow the holder to retain rights as an EU citizen. Sweden and Denmark have also seen unprecedented spikes in passport applications from Britons in the last nine months.

In February, a leaked document from the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee claimed that the future of Brits abroad would depend on the decisions of individual member states and on the rights given to EU nationals in the UK. However, according to John Muffett, a spokesperson for Bremain in Spain, "Spain won't want to build walls for those 310,000 Britons, although it would be difficult for it to do nothing."

Britons and Spaniards have been given assurances from their respective governments. They now have two years to decide if it's worth changing their passports, returning home or just waiting for the final outcome.

Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, is also leading the Freedom to Choose campaign, which is requesting that the EU introduces European citizen passports to all of those who are at risk of losing their rights and freedoms. The campaign must collect one million signatures from seven different EU member states to be able to be considered by the European Parliament. The web link for the organisation is:

www.bremaininspain.com

The percentage of Britons living in European countries who live in Spain. Higher than the Irish, who have an automatic right to dual nationality and therefore may remain European.

The percentage of Britons in Spain who are retired. Almost 110,000 pensioners have moved to Spain. The majority own homes and use the Spanish public health system.

The number of Spaniards who work in the UK and fear the return of the old work-visa system. The EU is against each country establishing its own agreement with the UK.

Bremain in Spain believes that the real number of Britons residing in Spain is twice the total that appears in official statistics. The other 300,000 people that are unaccounted for must also be concerned about the UK leaving the EU.

Health first

According to polls, the main concern among Britons living in Spain is healthcare. Many are worried that they would not be able to get private health insurance or that they wouldn't be able to afford it. What about Spanish companies and jobs?

Many are worried about having the right of freedom of movement taken away from them (thousands of Britons teach English in academies) and are concerned about businesses they have started.