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BREXIT

‘Brexpats’ in Spain: Which group do you belong to?

Are you are worrier, a campaigner or part of the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' brigade? Brits across Spain have reacted very differently to the prospect of Brexit.

'Brexpats' in Spain: Which group do you belong to?
Photo: AFP
Spain is host to the largest number of British citizens living in the EU (308,805 by official statistics but the true number is likely to be much higher) and although they will all be affected by Brexit in one way or another, it doesn't mean they have all reacted to the prospect of Britain quitting the EU in the same way.
 
Indeed there are a few identifiable groups of “Brexpats” (if we can call them that for the sake of word play). 
 
The Bremaining activists
 
The shock referendum result has brought out the militant side in a small number of Brexpats, who have taken it upon themselves to lead the fight to safeguard citizens' rights.
 
These people are the ones who have set up groups like the3Milliion, British in Europe, Eurocitizens and Bremain in Spain, and who are doing everything they can to make sure the rights of the 1.2 million Brits living in the EU are not swept under the carpet.
 
These activists have been appearing in front of parliamentary committees in Westminster and visiting EU negotiators in Brussels and Strasbourg to highlight what they see as the fraught position of British nationals living in the EU. They have organised petitions and campaigns such as persuading other Brexpats to write to MEPs around Europe urging them to stick up for the rights. 
 
 
To their credit they have spent a lot of their own money and time to make sure that amid all the talk of future trade deals and divorce bills the “human side of Brexit” is not forgotten.
 
Earlier this year Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain told a UK parliamentary select committee about the about the real concerns and worries that have blighted Brits living in the EU since the referendum result.
 
“Pensioners are already suffering from the falling exchange rates. They are worried about what will happen to their pensions and their healthcare cover,” said Valencia-based Wilson, who moved to Alcocebre with her husband a decade ago.
 
These Bremaining activitists might be small in number but they are putting up a fight. That's because they have help.
 
Bremainer campaigners
 
Outside this small group of frontline fighters is a much wider group, numbering in their hundreds if not thousands, who are keen to make their voices heard.
 
They have signed up to anti-Brexit groups in their droves, written to MEPs, signed petitions and shared vital information. They have returned home to join anti-Brexit protests and they are very active on social media. 
 
Many if not most are still deeply bitter about the result of the referendum which they believe was mostly the result of voters in the UK being duped and lied to. That makes it hard for them to move on and many are still arguing their corner with leavers.
 
The bitterness levels are high as many of them did not even get a chance to vote in the referendum because they have been out of the country for over 15 years.
 
 
The worriers
 
It's fair to say a huge number of Brexpats living in Spain and elsewhere in the EU have been beset by worry since the referendum. 
 
This group contains many pensioners who appear to be the most fearful about their futures in Spain, in fact of the 308,805 Britons officially registered as living in Spain, just over a third (101,045) are aged 65 and over, according to the Office for National Statistics..
 
They search for advice on what they can do to give them some kind of security. These are the Brexpats who, perhaps fearing a breakdown of talks and feeling an unwillingness to trust anything the British government says, are applying for residency permits or Spanish Nationality.
 
They will go to meeting halls for for Q and A sessions with the British Ambassador, urgently seeking some kind of clarity on how exactly Brexit will affect them. No amount of reassurance from the British government will settle their nerves.
 
For many “worriers” the impact of Brexit is already being felt, not least those pensioners who have seen their income cut because of the fall in the pound.
 
One person wrote on a Facebook message board: “My mental and physical health have both suffered since Brexit. I have lost weight, had some sleepless nights, lost my focus on my business and have got a script for anti-anxiety pills. I spent almost three weeks house-ridden after 23rd June. I'm slowly coming around.”
 
Another said: “Brexit has instilled me with anxiety, gives me sleepless nights and much worry.” 
 
 
The Going-Natives
 
There are an increasing number of Brexpats who, eager to move on from Brexit have decided the best form of action is to become Spanish.
 
They don't want to waste vital energy fighting Brexit and instead put their resources into getting Spanish nationality. But there is one obstacle that leaves many thinking twice before going down that route; the current law in Spain requires those who adopt Spanish nationality to renounce their former nationality.
 
A petition has been doing the rounds calling on the Spanish government to revise conditions required for Spanish citizenship to make it easier for those Brits who feel at home here to become Spanish.
 
Still, some are prepared to go the while hog.

“Even if it means giving up being British, I'm prepared to do that. I'd rather be European and ensure my rights to stay here are enshrined than be tied to a country that I feel so distanced from since the Brexit vote,” one woman who is going through the process to become Spanish recently told The Local.

Becoming Spanish is a process requiring ten years residency plus passing both a language  and citizenship test and across the Costas there has been a surge of enrolments on special Brexpat courses.

Photo: Halfpoint/Depositphotos

 
The Keep Calm and Carry On group
 
There are a large group of Brexpats who, although they were against Brexit, are refusing to be drawn into either panicking or campaigning.
 
They insist, much to the annoyance of the activists who might accuse them of apathy, that everything will be alright, nothing is going to change. It's all a storm in a cup of Yorkshire Tea.
 
“Do you really think Spain is going to kick us all out?” they will write on message boards. “Do you really think the UK is going to kick all the Spaniards out? Of course not.” 
 
This group of Brexpats are a particular annoyance to the activists and foot soldiers, who accuse them of apathy and of hindering their cause by not joining it.
 
In response the Keep Calm and Carry on gang accuse the activists of scaremongering and of creating more needless panic and yet more division between the two sides.
 
If everything does turn out OK for the Brexpats across Europe, no doubt the Keep Calm crew will turn around to the activists and say, “We told you so”. To which the activists will surely respond “It was because of our hard work that it did.” 
 
 
Stoic Bre-leavers
 
By no means were all of the Brexpats living in Spain in favour of Britain remaining in the EU. Indeed many voted to leave. 
 
While the idea that someone could happily live in Spain and the EU but vote for Britain to leave might seem contradictory to most, these Bre-leavers insist their problem was with the EU and not Spain.

“I voted 'Leave' because I believe in democracy and the idea that an unelected body can govern over us, is not one I support” one British leave voter told The Local recently.

“I realize that puts me in an awkward position because I live in Spain and want to continue to do so. My vote angers expats here as well as many of my friends at home, but I really believe the EU is flawed.” 

These Bre-leavers are hard to come by and some have gone into hiding, but many, like “Expat Steve” from France who had LBC radio host James O'Brien shaking his head in disbelief, are fighting their corner.

Brexpat Steve said he was “very happy with the referendum result” but had no desire at all to return to Britain. He firmly believes Brits will be able to live in their adopted countries freely just as they did before. 

It's likely that every Brit in Spain, no matter what Brexpat tribe they belong to, would be happy to see that. 


Where will Brexit negotitations lead us? Photo: F Govan

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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