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BREXIT

OPINION: Unlike EU citizens in the UK, Brits in Spain are lucky enough to enjoy the warmth of our hosts

Sue Wilson from Bremain in Spain gave a speech to a sell-out audience in Barcelona on the issues of Brexit, the warm welcome from Spain and stereotypes that still tarnish the perception of Brits in the country. Here she explains what part of her message got the biggest cheers.

OPINION: Unlike EU citizens in the UK, Brits in Spain are lucky enough to enjoy the warmth of our hosts
Photo: Sue Wilson/Bremain in Spain
On Thursday 3 October, a crowd of European citizens, mostly British and Spanish, attended the sell-out event, ‘Europeans in Catalonia’ at the Princess Hotel, Barcelona.
 
The four speakers discussed issues relating to Brexit – especially the human cost, which is frequently overlooked in the Brexit debate, in favour of trade and the economy.
 
A question and answer session followed, with many audience members participating, including EU Supergirl, Madeleina Kay, who was visiting Spain as part of her European tour.
 
The first speaker was Hedwig Hegtermans of the 3Million campaign group, speaking on behalf of European citizens in the UK.
 
Hedwig talked about the injustices of the Settled Status scheme and how Brexit has changed the way the UK feels about and treats European immigrants.
 
Next in the line-up was Elena Remigi, founder of the In Limbo Project, and Debbie Williams, chair of Brexpats – Hear our Voice. They highlighted the impact of Brexit on citizens in the UK and EU and read some moving testimonials from the In Limbo books, which have now been presented to over 1,500 politicians.
 
The books have helped many UK and EU politicians understand that their respective citizens are upset, angry and unnerved at the prospect of Brexit, and the loss of their rights.
 
Sue Wilson speaks at the event in Barcelona.
 
In my speech about Brits in Spain, I described the stereotypes we constantly see in the press: i.e. that we’re all pensioners, living on the coast, lazing on the beach, speaking only English and spending our time playing bowls or bridge, when we’re not sitting in bars festooned with Union Jack flags.
 
I think I might have mentioned something about drinking gin too!
 
I described how we feel about our reception in Spain: how we appreciate the Spanish government’s efforts to protect us and the treatment we receive from the Spanish people.
 
We have many issues in common with EU citizens in the UK but, fortunately, we don’t have to deal with the daily intolerance and xenophobia that they sadly experience.
 
We are lucky enough to enjoy the warmth, welcome and generosity of our Spanish family, friends and neighbours.
 
My “thank you” to the Spanish people received a big cheer from the audience. I concluded with a round-up of the current state of play. With events happening so quickly, and being so unpredictable, it’s difficult to be certain of anything, but I did make a few predictions.
 
Firstly, we’re not leaving the EU on October 31.
 
Any chance of a deal based on what Boris Johnson has proposed to Brussels seems unlikely. If nothing is agreed by 19 October, law dictates that Boris must ask the EU for an extension.
 
It’s likely that this will be agreed by the EU and may be longer than the UK anticipates.
 
If Johnson doesn’t abide by the law, he would face unknown consequences. The EU has already said that someone other than Johnson can sign the letter, should that prove necessary.
 
Secondly, a further referendum is far more likely now than it has been for months.
 
Increasingly, it looks like the best way out of the Brexit chaos, and it would certainly be the most democratic route.
 
The people made the decision that started this ball rolling, and they should make the decision about how it ends.
 
Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach of Ireland, said the British public would vote remain now, if given the chance.
 
I agree with him.
 
Finally, I’ve always believed that the longer we delay Brexit, the less likely it is to happen at all.
 
Brexit is not inevitable – it can be stopped, it must be stopped, and it will be stopped.
 
That comment received the biggest cheer of the evening ….. well, except, perhaps, for “see me in the bar afterwards”!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

Bremain in Spain, Brexpats-Hear Our Voice, In Limbo and The 3 Million would like to thank Mamen Candela and Amy Holden of Europeans in Catalonia for organising the event and for inviting us to speak.

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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.

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