surinenglish

A rollercoaster four years for Brits in Spain

Brits in Spain and Gibraltar join Spaniards in the UK at a protest.
Brits in Spain and Gibraltar join Spaniards in the UK at a protest. / SUR
  • Campaigners across Europe have fought for a second referendum and events have been held across Spain to give advice to British residents

  • As Brexit Day dawns SUR in English looks back on the efforts of EU and UK citizens to protect their rights

Since the result of the referendum became clear in the early hours of 24 June 2016, the 300,000 Brits in Spain, along with their counterparts across the EU 27 and European citizens living in the UK, have faced uncertainty, grief, hope and resolve: a rollercoaster of emotions.

It has since been argued that Remainers were complacent prior to the vote. Many thought that, while the result would be close, they would win. However, in the final days leading up to the referendum the balance seemed to be tipping and the improbable idea that the UK would vote to leave the EU after 43 years started to look like a reality.

Almost immediately Britons living across the EU started to rally and organisations sprang up. Brexpats was founded by Mijas resident, Anne Hernández, who saw a need to keep Britons in Spain informed and to campaign to protect their rights.

These aims were shared by Bremain in Spain, founded in Barcelona, although this pro-EU organisation also set itself the goal of fighting for the ultimate endgame, to persuade the British government to stop Brexit altogether.

The groups forged alliances with similar pan-European groups and Britain in Europe and The People's Vote were born.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in London and other European cities to demand a second referendum or to revoke Article 50, choosing significant dates such as the second anniversary of the referendum, on 23 June 2018, and the end of March 2019 to coincide with when the UK should have left.

October 2019's march was on another supposed departure day that came and went, and on 22 September the streets of Malaga were awash with EU flags and banners as local UK residents were joined by Malagueños whose family members live in the UK in a bid to 'Stop Brexit'.

Remainers saw their hopes raised again when the UK in EU Brexit challenge took the government to court; Bremain in Spain Chair Sue Wilson was the lead claimant in a case against then prime minister Theresa May on the legal conduct of the Leave campaign in September 2018. At the time the group was "hopeful that Brexit might not happen".

While for many, losing their status as EU citizens has been a hard pill to swallow, the immediate concerns have surrounded guaranteeing rights such as access to free healthcare, pensions and residency. On 18 June 2019 Alberto Costa MP, the son of Italian immigrants, was forced to resign as a minister after tabling an amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement to secure citizens' rights. He may have lost allies in the political world but he gained thousands of friends across the EU who knew someone was really listening to their plight.

As the possibility of crashing out of the EU seemed ever more likely in 2019, Spanish ministers gathered to discuss Brexit contingency plans in order to reassure the British community in Spain.

On 27 February 2019, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a Royal Decree which guaranteed customs procedures, access to Spanish healthcare, residency rights for those living in Spain legally, even in the case of a no-deal.

UK government funding was freed up and a series of Brexit pop-up meetings were held across Spain to inform Brits of their rights and responsibilities in the light of Brexit.

When Boris Johnson won an absolute majority in the December general election, Brexit was all but inevitable. However, the unrelenting work of those fighting for citizens' rights paid off and Brits legally resident in the EU and vice versa retain their rights to healthcare, pensions, residency and working arrangements according to the Withdrawal Act which comes into force tonight.