No-deal or no impact: What do the Spanish think of Brexit?

It's the question from friends and relatives that many Brits in Spain find themselves trying to answer - what do Spaniards think of Brexit?

No-deal or no impact: What do the Spanish think of Brexit?
Photos: AFP, Kantar

With more than 365,000 Britons officially registered in Spain and 18 million British tourists visiting the country every year, Spaniards have perhaps the biggest interest of all European nations in knowing what the outcome of a no-deal Brexit would mean for them.

So what do they make of Brexit, the likelihood of the UK exiting without a deal on October 31, and do Spaniards think referendums on EU membership are a good idea in the first place?

The French Kantar Centre on the Future of Europe, which brings together a pan-European team of researchers with expertise in political and opinion polls, has conducted an online poll of 1,000 Spanish adults to ask what they think of Brexit.

The results were then compared with similar polls in Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, France and Poland, and produced some surprising variations between countries.

When asked to predict what will happen on October 31st (the current Brexit date), 33 percent of Spanish people polled replied that the UK would not leave after all, 20 percent said Britain will leave with a deal, 36 percent said Britain would leave without a deal and the remaining 11 percent said “no lo se” (I don’t know).

Moving on to the question of whether or not Brexit is such a great idea, 40 percent of the Spanish people surveyed said it was a very bad idea, 28 percent a rather bad idea, 19 percent were undecided, while just 9 percent thought it was either a good or very good idea.

That means that Brexit’s negative opinion rating among Spaniards was the third most negative among the countries surveyed, after Germany (74 percent) and Ireland (73 percent).

Asked about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the UK, 77 percent of Spaniards thought it would have an adverse impact on the country, this time the second most pessimistic view among Europeans (Germany 82 percent).

Unsurprisingly Spaniards also had the second most alarmist outlook on how a no-deal Brexit would affect their own work and life – 33 percent responding it would have a negative impact on them personally- only behind Irish respondents in this regard.



Screenshot of Spanish newspaper El Economista which reads “Fed up of Brexit…what will happen if there's no deal by October 31.

Around 14 percent of Spaniards work in the tourism sector, with Britons representing by far the biggest number of visitors arriving at Spanish shores: 18.5 million last year according to government data, ahead of French and German tourists tied in second with 11 million.

Needless to say their attitudes towards how a no-deal Brexit will affect the Spanish economy were even more unenthusiastic, 66 percent believing it would be bad for Spain overall.

The survey also asked Spanish people whether they would like a referendum on the subject of Spain’s membership of the EU. 

Somewhat surprisingly – given their generally negative views on Brexit and that Spaniards are going to have to vote in their own national elections for the fourth year running soon – 40 percent of Spaniards were still in favour of Spain holding its own vote on EU membership compared to 30 percent who were opposed. 

Then again Germans – whose respondents were the most pessimistic overall about Brexit in the Kantar Centre study – also showed a higher willingness to hold a vote on their EU membership than all other countries surveyed, 45 percent saying they were in favour of a referendum. 

However, when asked how they would vote, 72 percent of Spaniards said they would choose remain compared to only 13 percent who would want to leave the EU.

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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.