Brexit: Brits in Spain react to Theresa May’s speech

Theresa May's Conservative Party conference speech is causing confusion and consternation amongst members of the anti-Brexit campaign group Bremain in Spain.

Brexit: Brits in Spain react to Theresa May's speech
Theresa May danced on stage to the Abba song "Dancing Queen". Photo: AFP

When the British Prime Minister danced on stage to deliver a crucial keynote speech to the Conservative conference in Birmingham, on Wednesday, no-one was listening more keen that those campaigning for the rights of British citizens in Europe.

But while Mrs May sought to quell discord within her own party and reassure Britain that the end of austerity was in sight with Brexit, she did little to assuage fears from British residents in Spain worrying about what effects Brexit, deal or no deal, would have on them.

“Literally dancing on to stage in Birmingham – to the sounds of the famous Europop tune, 'Dancing Queen' by ABBA – Mrs May casually set about promising a continuation of her parochial dedication to Brexit and implied that those against her Chequers agreement are “unpatriotic”,” said a statement from the campaigning group Bremain in Spain.

Alastair Stewart, Bremain advisor, commented: “What we heard today was nothing short of a lie. To pretend that austerity can end with Brexit is to misunderstand fundamentally her own policies, or commit an act of unprecedented deception.”

Stewart continued: “The absence of any clear assurances for British citizens living in Europe was as stark as it was deliberate. It's an inconvenient truth for May to acknowledge that millions of people will be affected by the most muddled and confused policy ever conceived by a British government. In this scenario, her dancing moves clearly reflect her government. Robotic, inappropriate and doomed to ridicule.”

Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain said: “May has been obsessed with reducing immigration since failing to meet her own ridiculous targets while Home Secretary. She wants to end freedom of movement once and for all, despite the demands of business and the wishes of much of the British public. Not only has EU immigration brought huge financial benefits to the UK, it has also enriched the culture and diversity of our once-tolerant and open-minded society beyond measure.”

Wilson concluded: “Once again, citizens' rights were conspicuous by their absence. It has always been abundantly clear, despite a tide of false promises, that this government cares nothing for the welfare of Brits in the EU. May is willing to pay the high price of sacrificing our rights to curb the rights of EU citizens in the UK. How can the government claim that Brexit is all about “opportunity”, when it is removing our opportunity to live, love, work, study, retire in another country and denying those opportunities to future generations?

“May and her advisors might have considered 'Dancing Queen' an appropriate theme tune. Personally, I think 'Waterloo' would be more appropriate!” quipped Wilson.

OPINION: Why I'm not scared of a 'no deal' 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.