Forgotten Voices: What Brits in Spain think about Brexit

Filmmaker Gemma Middleton felt so betrayed by the Brexit vote that she decided to make a documentary about it. Here she tells The Local why she took the result so personally.

Forgotten Voices: What Brits in Spain think about Brexit
"We are just pawns in a big power game". Photo: Girl Friday Films

“When Brexit first happened, I think I was in total disbelief. Not only did the Brexit vote win but my entire family, my parents, aunts, cousins voted Leave,” explained Gemma Middleton, a 43 year-old filmmaker who moved to Spain seven years ago from Bristol.

“Yes, I took it personally,” she told the Local from her home in Cheste, a town some 30km from Valenica in eastern Spain.

“It made me realize that if my own family hadn’t thought twice about what it would mean for me then there was no chance that anyone else, especially the British government, would.”

Feeling powerless to do anything about it, she decided to collect the “forgotten voices of the British immigrant community in Spain”.

Gemma Middleton has taken Brexit personally. Photo: G Middleton.

“I don’t like the term expat,” insisted Middleton. “I think by calling ourselves expats it somehow marks us out as different to immigrants. But we are not different. We are no different from the three million immigrants from EU nations currently residing in the UK.”

Since the Brexit vote Middleton has been travelling around Spain with film director Samuel Sebastian gathering interviews with those who have strong views about Brexit.

“It’s been very interesting and even though Article 50 hasn’t been invoked yet, the effects are already huge. We’ve interviewed people who are moving back to the UK because the exchange rate post-Brexit means their pensions are no longer enough to live on.

“There is a director of a language academy who just won’t hire Brits if they have lived here for under five years in case they can’t get residency and have to move back,” she said.

 A trailer for the documentary shows just how powerless some expats are feeling.

“Decisions are being taken that we have not been able to influence in any way,” said one man in the clip who complained he had no vote because he has lived outside the UK for more than 15 years. “We are just pawns in the big power game that has gone on.”

One woman raised the fears that many have over what rights British people will hae to free healthcare post-Brexit.

“At the moment we have European health card, we have Spanish health cards which means we are entitled to free health care across the European union. If we are no longer a member, that may not apply anymore,” she said adding that she had personally felt very upset about the result of the June 23 referendum.

“I went through all the various stages of grieving,” she said.

Another added a sentiment that will resonate with many of the estimated 800,000 British nationals living in Spain.

“I think everyone is in limbo at the moment”.

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Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

The Spanish government has confirmed that it will not extend its reciprocal healthcare agreements with Gibraltar, meaning that from July 1st 2022, it will come to an end.

Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

When the UK left the EU on December 31st 2020, both sides agreed that the UK’s EHIC European healthcare cards could still be used until their expiry dates.

This card provided British travellers with free state-provided medical care in the EU in case of emergencies.

Beyond their five year period of validity, EHIC cards are no longer valid and travellers have to apply for the new Global Heath Insurance Card (GHIC) instead. 

Spain made a separate agreement with Gibraltar under its Royal Brexit Decree in which unilateral arrangements would be maintained in the territory and extended until June 30th 2022.

During the meeting of the Spanish Council of Ministers on Tuesday, the Spanish Government decided not to extend the agreement further, meaning that residents of Gibraltar will no longer be able to benefit from it.

In a statement the government of Gibraltar said: “It would have been HMGoG’s preference for these arrangements, which deeply affect citizens on either side of the border on matters as essential as healthcare, to have been maintained. Indeed, HMGoG was prepared to continue with them”.

“However, because reciprocity is a key element to these arrangements which cannot work without coordination and provisions for reimbursement of costs etc., HMGoG is left with no option but to discontinue them also in so far as treatment in Gibraltar is concerned,” it continued. 

What does this mean?

Gibraltar residents insured under Gibraltar’s Group Practice Medical Scheme will, after 30th June 2022, no longer be able to access free emergency healthcare in Spain during a temporary stay in the country. 

Those who are residents in Spain who travel over to Gibraltar will not have access to free healthcare on The Rock either. 

As a consequence, if a resident of Gibraltar falls ill or has an accident while over the border in Spain or the same for a Spanish resident in Gibraltar, they will have to pay for healthcare.

The government of Gibraltar is encouraging its citizens from July 1st 2022 to have appropriate travel insurance with medical cover each time they visit Spain.

This means that even those who are hopping over the border for few hours such as for a shopping trip or going out for dinner will have to make sure that they have adequate health insurance. 

“Where medical attention is required the costs incurred may be considerable, so you should ensure you have adequate insurance cover or alternatively the means to pay,” the Gibraltar government said in their statement.