SHARE
COPY LINK

BREXIT

‘An act of self-harm’: What my Spanish neighbours think of Brexit

Here in Spain, Brexit is understandably not the number one topic of conversation - it’s much further down the list of public and governmental priorities, writes Sue WIlson of Bremain in Spain.

'An act of self-harm': What my Spanish neighbours think of Brexit

When it does arise in conversation with Spanish friends, colleagues or neighbours, reactions range from incredulous to sad, bemused to offended.

Initially, my Spanish friends reacted to the 2016 referendum result with shock and disbelief. They couldn’t understand how millions of British citizens could vote to leave a union of neighbouring countries that they, personally, value so highly. They felt that we Brits had committed a hugely self-destructive act, and for no tangible reason. No argument from me!

At the time, many Brits living in Spain, me included, had scant knowledge about the EU and its role in our lives. Many of us simply took the rights and benefits afforded by EU membership for granted. We were happy to enjoy our daily existence in Spain, oblivious to the political goings-on in the UK – events in Westminster would have little effect on our lives in our adopted homeland, or so we thought. How wrong could we be?

When I first started campaigning to stay in the EU, an important element of that task was to communicate information and advice about Brexit as widely as possible. Initially, my communications were aimed at the British community in Spain. I confess that often proved a difficult task with those that voted to leave, despite them having made their homes in Europe.

The biggest hurdle was the fact that so many of them said, and still do, that “nothing will change”. Apparently, the Spanish “need us”, we “support the Spanish economy” and “we’ll get what we want because we’re British”.

The very fact that around a third of British citizens who have made their homes in Spain, actually voted to leave the EU is one fact that the Spanish still cannot fathom – “turkeys voting for Christmas” is an English idiom well-known to our Spanish friends now.

The need to communicate information to our Spanish friends and neighbours, as well as to our British ones, became increasingly apparent. The first task was to ensure the general public here that we hadn’t actually left the EU yet. The second was to convince them that Brexit was not inevitable – a task that became a whole lot easier once we didn’t leave the EU in March, or April, as planned.

When travelling, I repeatedly had to explain the Bremain in Spain strapline, “Brexit is Bonkers!”, to Spanish fellow-travellers who spotted my luggage stickers. Translating the “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers was rather more straightforward!

With my own Spanish friends, the most important point to communicate was that the result of the referendum did not reflect my personal views, or the views of the majority of the British population. They were and are genuinely interested in gaining a better understanding of what’s happening and what’s possible. Now they follow everything I am doing on the campaign front with great interest.

Any Brexit-related discussion with Spaniards inevitably leads to the treatment of Spanish citizens in the UK – a topic that fills me with shame. Thankfully, none of our Spanish friends’ families have personally experienced the racist abuse reported in the media. However, some have cancelled plans to spend time in the UK, or to move there, as they don’t feel assured of a warm welcome anymore. With that in mind, some have opted for Ireland or another EU country instead.

Despite the sadness and confusion surrounding Brexit, the Spanish people haven’t changed the way they treat British citizens. Our Spanish friends still call us their “English family” – much to the amusement of my Scottish husband! They welcome us into their lives and homes and are proud of people who aren’t taking Brexit lying down. They want us to stay in the EU, and in their homeland.

Since moving to Spain 12 years ago, it has felt like my “forever home”.  Now I’m more convinced than ever that my future is here – but not simply because Brexit has turned my birthplace into a country I no longer recognise, or can take any pride in.

Spain is my home because of the Spanish people – their culture, their way of life, their passion, openness and kindness. The language is special too – “¡Cojones a Brexit!” does have a certain ring about it.

“Stop Brexit”, of course, requires no translation whatsoever.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

OPINION: Why Boris could be our best bet to stop Brexit

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

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.

SHOW COMMENTS