ANALYSIS: Where does this leave Brits in Spain now?

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain reels from the staggering results of the "Brexit election" but insists the fight isn't yet over.

ANALYSIS: Where does this leave Brits in Spain now?
Photo: AFP

Friday 13th December 2019 was a nightmare come true. The result of the Brexit election isn’t just unlucky for British citizens living in the EU – it’s unlucky for the whole UK.

When the results of the exit poll emerged on Thursday at 10pm, the shock and despair amongst Brits across Europe was palpable. The expectation had been for a hung parliament or a close result. Last week, there was increasing optimism that the government would fall or be returned with no working majority. On election day, we hoped that tactical voting would stop Boris Johnson in his tracks.

Instead, not only did Johnson prevail but the scale of his win was staggering.

The emotions of Brits in Spain are reminiscent of how we felt on the morning of June 24th 2016. A combination of anger, incredulity, sadness and hopelessness may last awhile. A question from many of us is: “Where does that leave us now?”

Naturally, many people will be considering their individual circumstances and what they stand to lose through Brexit. Many will be thinking of their children, grandchildren, family in the UK and the loss of future opportunities that Brexit would steal.

As we watched events unfold on Thursday night, there were two common reactions. The first was a commitment to apply for Spanish citizenship. The second was a desire to cut any remaining emotional ties with the UK. After all, for almost four years, the UK has washed its hands of British citizens overseas – maybe it’s time to return the favour.

Over the coming weeks, the analysis of the Brexit election will start in earnest. Fingers will be pointed, blame will be apportioned. The Tories will crow, the Remainers will cry. Johnson has already claimed “a powerful mandate” from the country to deliver his hard, perhaps no-deal Brexit. He will make it sound easy. It won’t be.

A main factor determining the election outcome was the clear success of the government’s “get Brexit done” campaign. This tactic appealed to the public’s boredom and frustration with Brexit and parliament – perhaps the only political message that resonated with both Leave and Remain voters alike. This is ironic, considering it’s the biggest lie of the entire election.

Even if we ‘leave’ the EU on January 31st, as Johnson intends, Brexit will be far from done. Our rights will remain for the time being, we’ll be in transition, and nothing will change – except perhaps the public mood. The EU has warned that negotiating a trade deal will take years and is not possible by the end of 2020, despite the prime minister’s claims.

We can expect a honeymoon period for the new government, but it cannot last. Johnson’s inability to deliver will become blindingly obvious. The niggling issues that Johnson swept under the rug until the election was over – such as the Russian report and the Arcuri scandal – will re-emerge. The deceptions, fake news and outright lies told by the Conservative party deserve more exposure and criticism. The mainstream media must also share some of the responsibility.

After the 2016 referendum, I felt much as I do now. The referendum was a political awakening for me, but it took a while to happen. I spent three weeks grieving and being angry before I woke up and decided to act. I cannot afford to take three weeks now.

Whatever my actions, it won’t change the election result but that doesn’t mean this fight is over. I will not stand by and watch the most right-wing, extremist government in my lifetime take over the country that used to inspire pride in me. I won’t stand by while lies, dirty tricks, xenophobia and lack of compassion become the new norm in British politics. Nor will I sit back and watch the NHS being sold to the highest bidder, homelessness increase, or more British children growing up in poverty.

Johnson said on Friday that he “genuinely speaks for every part of the country”. I assume by “country”, he means England. Whatever he claims, he does not – and will never – speak for me.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain


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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.