‘It’s like a bereavement’: Brits in Spain share their Brexit day heartache

Brexit day has finally come, and with it feelings of devastation, betrayal and above all, sadness. British people in Spain have been sharing their feelings about the UK’s departure from the EU and how they will be marking the occasion.

'It's like a bereavement': Brits in Spain share their Brexit day heartache
Photo: Brunel Johnson, Unsplash

We have known it was coming for three years now, but repeated Brexit delays and chaos within UK politics had allowed some a glimmer of hope that maybe it wouldn't after all.

But now that has been snuffed out and at midnight today (11pm in the UK) the UK will exit the EU and British people will lose their EU citizenship.

We asked some British people living in Spain about their emotions now that the day is here.

Zofia Coulton, who has lived in Spain for the last 11 years said she felt: “Absolutely devastated, scared and angry,” and above all was worried about the loss of freedom of movement and her children’s future.

“Devastated” was the word overwhelmingly used by our readers to explain how they felt as Brexit day approached.

Many respondents said they would not be marking the day by doing anything special but would be avoiding media coverage on Brexit day.


“I feel sick, disgusted and astonished that the English people are so gullible because they are the ones who voted for it. And Johnson,” said Brian McLaughlin, who has been in Spain for 17 years. “On the day itself I’ll be turning off any news reports on TV.”

Claire Lindsey Moss, who has lived in Spain for 16 years admitted that she would probably shed a tear on Brexit Day. “I feel distraught scared and ignored,” she said.

Deborah Fielding who had a holiday home in Spain for 19 years and now lives here permanently said it was the saddest day of her life.

“I feel Hopeless and very, very sad. I can truly say that I feel more sad over Brexit than when my parents died; their deaths were inevitable and for the best while Brexit is the opposite,” she said.

On the day itself, she will be in full mourning ,even though she is on holiday and will be staying at a hotel in Spain.  “I’ll wear a black dress and God help anyone in the hotel who is celebrating!” she said.

Louise Venison, who has been in Spain for 27 years said Brexit day might be cause for setting alight to something,

“Maybe burn a Union Jack?” she said while admitting to feelings of “anger, which I will hold onto for as long as I can because it avoids dealing with other feelings like hopelessness, grief and loss.”

Beverley Burke, a resident in Spain since 2008, also felt like mourning. “I will light a candle remembering what once was,” she said.

Christine Baker said: “I am devastated and distraught. It feels like a bereavement”

She will also avoid TV and newspapers on the day but will “put my EU flag up”.

Deborah Booth, a resident in Spain for ten years said she felt: “Very very sad . Angry that my country of origin has completely lost the plot.”

Lesley Berry said a night of drowning one’s sorrows was in order. “We feel Devastated. There’s so much uncertainty surrounding our health cover still being covered. We worked hard and were able to retire to the sun in the knowledge that health and pensions would be covered until we died, now very unsure and dread the thought that we may well have to return to UK.”


Karen George who divides her time between France and Spain had a special play list for Brexit Day. “ I may play Ode to Joy a lot,” she admitted.  “I feel anxious about my future rights .l.feel embarrassed about my country .l am just really unhappy and embarrassed to mention it.”

Tracy Rolfe had the same idea. Asked how she would be marking January 31 she said: “Perhaps hang out EU flags, light candles and play 'Ode to Joy'.” No celebration here. Nothing to mark this is biggest mistake in recent European history.

Emma Fisher, who has lived in Malaga for ten years said there really was no way of marking the day. “This is biggest mistake in recent European history,” she said.

Nicola Edge, who lives in Barcelona said the Brexit day would be a dark day for her: “I know I will be feeling very depressed, but I will work as normal and probably be very quiet.

“I feel angry and cheated together with a deep sadness, having had no vote I feel stateless and now they've even taken away my European vote,” she added.

But Madeline Ward who has lived in Catalonia for nine years said they would putting out the flags: “EU, Spanish and Catalan flags will  be on display. And then we’ll drink to the end of a really good era.”

For some though, the day itself didn’t mean much.

Thomas Cassidy, who has been living in Spain for 18 years, told The Local: “Strangely, I feel a bit indifferent as I have spent the last three years raging at the stupidity of the UK and the thought that I am being abandoned with no more thought than an injured animal which needs to be put down. I’m now accepting the inevitable.”

  • WATCH: The Local readers across Europe share their feelings about Brexit day. 


Thank you to everyone who took the time to send us your thoughts and feelings, we didn't have room to include them all but it was very powerful to hear so many voices from different parts of Spain. 




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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.