‘Don’t leave me this way’ sing Britons in Spain as Brexit kicks in

Bangers and mash, pints of beer, a Europeans vs Britons tug-of-war and renditions of "Don't Leave me This Way" and "We'll Meet Again". UK expats in Spain marked Britain's departure from the European Union in true British style.

'Don't leave me this way' sing Britons in Spain as Brexit kicks in
A singer performs during a mock EU goodbye party in Jimera de Libar on January 1, 2021. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

Although many are unhappy at the decision to leave, with some facing residency and other bureaucratic problems, Britons at the Bar Allioli in the southern village of Jimera de Libar decided to make the best of a bad job and throw a party.

The tongue-in-cheek celebration featured a menu of all British favourites such as fish and chips and beans on toast.

“While most of us are not altogether happy about the whole thing, we might as well celebrate in a fashion and enjoy ourselves,” said Paul Darwent, a 65-year-old Briton who runs the bar in the Andalusian mountains about an hour by car from the coast.

“The reality is it is going to create a lot of problems for us all,” added Darwent, who has lived in Spain for over two decades, in a reference to Britain's completion of its divorce from the European Union (EU) on December 31.

The mock EU goodbye party in Jimera de Libar on January 1, 2021. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

Around 370,000 Britons are registered as living in Spain — more than in any other EU country — and thousands more are believed to be settled in the country without ever having notified the authorities.

Many are retirees who live on Spain's sunny southern coast, drawn by the country's warmer climate and lower cost of living.

Britons can keep their residency rights in Spain — as long as they applied for residency before December 31, when Britain's transition period out of the EU ended.

To qualify, they must have a permanent address, a local bank account, show sufficient funds and have healthcare cover.

'Very annoyed' 

Many, however, do not meet the requirements, said Myra Azzopardi, a paralegal and the founder of the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), a British charity that helps expats with legal issues.

“We are going to have a lot of people who are going to end up without residency and without any way of getting residency,” she told AFP.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: What Brits in Europe need to know about travel from January 2021

Baz Rhodes, a 58-year-old paragliding guide from Manchester who has lived in Spain for 20 years, said Brexit meant he and his wife had to take out private health insurance at a cost of 200 euros a month.

“I am very, very annoyed,” said Rhodes, who attended the party wrapped in a EU flag. Because of pandemic restrictions, the party was held on the bar's outdoor patio, which was decorated with British, Spanish and EU flags.

Separate entrances for EU and non-EU nationals were set up to enter the bar to use washrooms.

The musical backdrop to the festivities included live performances of The Communards' “Don't leave me this way” and Vera Lynn's “We'll meet again”.

'So sad'

The highlight of the party was a match of tug-of-war pitting four British men against four men from Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Spain.

Cheers and applause broke out when the EU team won, causing the British team to tumble to the ground.


“If we don't celebrate in some way, we would just be crying because it is so sad,” Elaine Gilfillan, a teacher from Scotland who has lived in Spain for nearly two decades, commented.

She said she was saddened that it is now much harder for her children to move to Spain, like she did, or any other EU nation.

From Friday onwards, any Briton who wants to live in Spain must follow the same procedure as for all non-EU citizens, which is more complex and difficult, with higher income requirements.

And their professional qualifications will no longer be automatically recognised in Spain. They will have to apply for it, with no guarantee of success.

“We should be together. We are one continent. I think Britain will suffer as a result. It is not good for any of us,” added Gilfillan.

READ ALSO:  How can British second home owners spend more than 90 days in Spain after Brexit?


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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.