OPINION: Yes, life in Spain will become more complicated but I’m backing Brexit

Tim Appleton, who has lived in Madrid for 15 years knows his life will be made more difficult with Brexit but has written a book backing Britain's divorce from the EU. Here he explains why he can enjoy the benefits of EU membership but still want the EU to come to an end.

OPINION: Yes, life in Spain will become more complicated but I'm backing Brexit
Tim Appleton accepts Brexit will make his life harder but thinks it's for the greater good. Photo: T Appleton

The title of one of Nietzsche’s most famous books is usually translated into English as Untimely Meditations. I wonder whether there’s a better example of an “untimely meditation” than publishing a book – that defends Brexit in the very week that Brexit itself is taking place.

Even if there were broad agreement on the subject (which, famously, there isn’t), it might not seem entirely necessary to publish such a text in the same week that the decision was coming to fruition. Hence the controversy surrounding the ringing of church bells in Britain, to mark the occasion, or the issuing of daft commemorative 50 pence pieces. It just looks rude.

Even more so if one is (as I am) seemingly enjoying the benefits of EU membership by living in the EU itself: the many job possibilities, the opportunity to develop your skills, the sheer exoticism of the experience.

In truth, this situation has been a constant source of confusion between me and some of my British associates.

I have heard people say that they don’t begin to understand how I could defend Brexit whilst living in Spain. This sort of attitude is what explains the long-running series of reports on British TV, where liberal journalists snickeringly interview British ex-pats who live on, say, the Costa del Sol and voted to leave the EU.

Obviously, if you live on the Costa del Sol and you voted Brexit because of fears over immigration, then the snickering is probably justified.

On the other hand, what better reminder of the fact that the personal is not necessarily political?

In other words, it should be possible to separate one’s feelings about the politics of Brexit from the huff and puff that is involved in having to change certain living habits. Perhaps in this case, however, one could posit an indirect connection between the two things, which actually points to a more profound truth about politics in general.

What’s the connection? Simply this: those of us who support Brexit think the principle is worthy of some personal inconvenience, while those who don’t have decided to be offended by any change in their day to day lives that it might require them to make. Why is this point so important?

What I find interesting here is that this is not the way in which the pro-Brexit/anti-Brexit division is usually presented. It is frequently asserted that supporting Brexit is a sign of conservatism, whilst being against it is a sign of progressivism.

This seems counterintuitive, however. Isn’t the very definition of conservatism that of supporting the status quo, whilst progressivism is defined by a commitment to social change? Brexit seems to invert this logic. Here we do indeed get to the heart of the matter.

For we Brexiteers, Brexit most definitely does not involve supporting the status quo. It represents a great and important change. Why do we think it is necessary? Many of us simply think that it is important to begin to drive a stake through the heart of this – badly-named – European Union.

Why should we do such a thing? After all, if one saw things, again, in purely apolitical terms, it would seem to be a rather hateful thing to wish for. However, many of us perceive such a gesture to be a profound act of solidarity with our European brethren.

This is not simply a macroeconomic question, although the macroeconomic picture is certainly bad for the vast majority of European citizens; it also has to do with the way in which the EU has been skewed from the very beginning in favour of the powerful countries of the continent and against the less powerful ones.

Those countries (like Britain) who mercifully avoided joining the euro have not felt the full brunt of this, but those who are in the eurozone appear to be trapped in a prison of economic austerity that they will only be able to escape from if they destroy the edifice itself.

If Spanish governments, for example, consider that 50 percent youth unemployment is a price worth paying to keep prices of consumer goods low in Germany, it won’t be surprising when they are inevitably replaced, at some point, by politicians who indeed talk the language of change but really have in mind a violent culturalist regression, i.e. the extreme right.

Since, moreover, the less powerful countries of the bloc have been sold the lie that this process has been in their own interest, people like me feel it is doubly important for some country to give an empirical example of how it is possible to leave.

At one point, it looked like this would be the prerogative of Greece, but in the end, predictably, the Greek political class refused to take the necessary step. If, therefore, it is indeed a matter of bringing down the building, it seems that it has fallen to Britain to start the process.

The British may even have to endure some temporary economic hardship in order to achieve such a result. This only underlines that it can be seen as a solidaristic act. In sum, for Brexiteers like me, there is nothing conservative at all in Brexit. It represents a profound political change – more so in that it is to the benefit of all the citizens of the continent -, that is certainly worth making.

Timothy Appleton has lived in Madrid for 15 years. He is a lecturer in the Camilo José Cela University, editor of the magazine #lacanemancipa and author of the book “Escupir en la iglesia: un sí de izquierdas al Brexit”, (“Spitting in church: a left-wing yes to Brexit”) which is published on January 31st. You can buy it  direct from the publisher HERE.

Member comments

  1. For Brexit out of concern over the big EU countries wielding more power than the little ones? Self-harming for the sake of Slovakia? (Which never, of course, asked us to self-harm on its behalf.)

    Sorry, not buying it. The underlying premise here is that Brexit will drive a stake through the heart of Europe, apparently to liberate member states from the from the capitalistic grip of the whole project. Ignoring the truly revolutionary nature of openness, this would ultimately take us back to a world of borders and border checks, currency controls, tariffs and all manner of locally-imposed obstacles to well-being and prosperity.

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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.