Brits on the Costa del Sol ‘worried and anxious’ as UK triggers Brexit

The day after Britain voted to leave the European Union last June, British pensioner David Frost noticed his left leg was severely swollen.

Brits on the Costa del Sol 'worried and anxious' as UK triggers Brexit
Briton David Frost talks with his neighbours in Malaga on March 27th 2017. Photo: AFP

He walked over to his local public health clinic in the southern Spanish city of Malaga and was promptly diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, in which a blood clot blocks off blood flow deep in the veins, a potentially fatal condition.

Frost, who has lived in Spain since 1991, received daily injections of expensive blood thinners for several months at virtually no cost to himself until his life was out of danger.

Now the 74-year-old is one of thousands of British retirees in Spain who fear they will be forced to move back to Britain if they lose their free access to Spanish public health care as a result of Britain's exit from the bloc.

“I couldn't afford to live here without free health care,” he said as he sat on the sofa of his 13th floor apartment in central Malaga on Spain's Costa del Sol which offers sweeping views of nearby mountains.

“This is my home now. I want to stay here. I want to die sitting on a balcony looking at a view, watching a sunset, having a glass of red wine. Not in some miserable grey street in Manchester with grey skies and no view.”

READ ALSO: Eight reasons why Spain is very worried about Brexit

'Worried and anxious' 

Spain is the number one destination for British nationals living outside Britain, far ahead of France and Ireland.

The country is home to just over 300,000 Britons, around a third of them aged over 65. The figure rises to around one million if Britons who live only part of the year in Spain are included.

With British Prime Minister Theresa May expected to invoke Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty on Wednesday to launch the process of leaving the bloc, anxiety is running high among this huge expat community.

“Nobody really knows how it is going to go,” said Julie Payne, 65, of Brexpats in Spain, one of several groups that lobbies to protect the rights of Britons living in Spain, as she sat by the pool of her seaside villa in Benalmadena up the coast from Malaga.

“People are worried and anxious,” added Payne, who moved to Spain in 2000.

Aside from fearing the loss of free health care, many retirees fear their pensions will take a hit when Britain leaves the EU, she said.

READ ALSO: Why Brexit is a 'matter of life and death' for some Brits in Europe

'Cutting out luxuries'

Under existing rules any British state pensions collected in Spain or any other EU nation get the same annual increase to compensate for inflation as those collected in Britain.

But it is not clear if this arrangement will be kept after Britain leaves the bloc.

The annual increases are not paid to Britons living outside of the EU in countries like Australia and Canada, whose state pension is frozen at the amount it was when they left Britain.

British retirees in Spain are already feeling the pinch from the drop of the pound, which has shed about 15 percent of its value against the euro since Britain voted for Brexit in a June 2016 referendum.

“For some this has meant cutting out on luxuries such as having a meal out. For others this means not being able to turn on the heating or cutting back on paying for personal care,” said Kelly Hall, a lecturer in social policy at the University of Birmingham who has studied British retirees in Spain.

The drop in the pound was especially hard for the “numerous” British nationals living in Spain who are entirely reliant on a British state pension — which is capped at around 480 pounds (€555 euros) a month — as their only form of income, she added.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says he thinks a deal can quickly be worked out with Britain to defend the rights of British expats in Spain after Brexit — a view shared by Mark Sampson, the owner of the Eurobar in Benalmadena which sells pints of beer for just one euro.

“They wouldn't want us all to leave and take all of our money and wealth out of Spain,” said the burly 50-year-old, who moved to Spain from the northern English seaside resort of Blackpool five years ago and voted for Britain to leave the bloc.

By Daniel Silva

READ ALSO: Forgotten voices: What Brits in Spain think about Brexit


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.