Spain REALLY wants Britain to stay in EU and here’s why

Spain is the country in Europe that is most against Brexit.

Spain REALLY wants Britain to stay in EU and here's why
Could Brexit derail Spain's fragile economic recovery? Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

A survey published on Monday revealed that 64 percent of Spaniards want Britain to remain within the European Union.

Spain leads as the nation most against Brexit according to a poll by Bertelsmann Foundation which showed that the average across Europe was 54 percent in favour of the status quo.

Spain was also the country which would be least likely to vote in favour or breakaway from the EU with a 74 percent claiming that they would vote to remain if offered their own referendum on membership, according to the poll.

On Wednesday, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of leftist Podemos, which is pro-European Union although against the austerity policies enforced by Brussels, urged British “comrades” to vote to Remain.




Brexit could derail Spain's fragile recovery

Spain has a lot to lose if trade links between the two countries are weakened.

Spain currently enjoys a €11 billion surplus in the trade balance with the UK, roughly 1.1 percent of GDP, according to El Pais.

The UK is also Spain’s primary direct investment destination, with Spanish companies investing €48 billion (14 percent of annual total) there.

In return, around 10 percent of the UK’s total foreign investment is spent in Spain.

Earlier this month Spain’s most powerful business leaders warned of the dangers of Brexit.

An open letter to the FT signed by industrialists, including the CEOs of Spain’s top companies, warned that Brexit “would reduce prosperity”.

Fashion giant Inditex, telecoms behemoth Telefónica, global energy firm Iberdrola, and construction company Ferrovial, alongside banks, Santander and Sabadell, which have all contributed huge investments in the UK, are all worried about the uncertainty Brexit could bring.

“While respecting the decision of the people in the United Kingdom, we believe that a Europe without the UK would be weaker, just as the UK itself would be weaker outside Europe,” they wrote. “We believe the case for Europe has never been stronger.”

Spain is one of the economies thought to be most vulnerable to the effects of a Brexit.

According to rating agency Standard and Poor’s Brexit Sensitivity Index, Spain is ranked eighth on a list of economies with the most to lose.

“Spain has large financial and FDI exposures to the U.K., in particular through its large retail banking subsidiaries and telecom operations,” a report by S & P said.

 Tourism industry could suffer

Photo: AFP

Millions of British tourists flock to Spain each year for their holidays. In fact Brits accounted for nearly a quarter of all vistors to Spain last year, contributing €14 billion to the Spanish economy.

While there is no reason to think that Brexit will put people off coming to Spain, experts predict that a drop in the value of sterling against the euro would take its toll.

“The impact of Brexit on tourism at least in the short term would be mainly due to the depreciation of the pound,” predicted Madrid-based financial consultancy AFI

Expats may have to go home

The biggest fear over Brexit lies among British expats in Spain and Spanish workers currently living and working in the UK. What could happen to their rights?

Acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy issued a dire warning earlier this month when he said “a Brexit vote could mean expats losing the right to live and work in Spain.”

More than 400,000 British citizens officially live and work in Spain, in comparison to 100,000 Spanish citizens who live and work in the United Kingdom, he claimed.

Athough the true number of Brits residing in Spain is estimated to be as high as around one million. The worst case scenario is that they will have to apply for work permits and residency and may no longer be entitled to free health care.

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Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.