Life after Brexit: What are the issues that worry Brits in Spain the most?

From concerns about healthcare to problems regarding work and residency, a new survey reveals the main worries that are keeping UK nationals living in Spain awake at night, Bremain in Spain head Sue Wilson explains.

Life after Brexit: What are the issues that worry Brits in Spain the most?
A UK national reads a local newspaper in Benidorm on January 31st 2020, the last day the UK was part of the EU. Photo: JOSE JORDAN / AFP

Back in April, Bremain in Spain launched a membership survey to investigate which Brexit-related issues were still of concern to our members. The ‘Brexit Impact on Brits Abroad’ working group (BIBA) was established and set to work on designing a survey that would encourage members to share their views and feelings.

The aim of the project was to discover how Brexit was impacting our members lives, employment, families and health, and what were their major concerns going forward. We received over 600 individual testimonies, covering a wide range of topics, with many more members contributing.

Whilst we don’t claim that our survey results represent the views of all, or even the majority, of our members, let alone those of all UK nationals in Spain, the issues raised will be recognisable to many.

Unsurprisingly, healthcare was a topic raised by many of our members. Despite government reassurances, fears of losing the protections afforded by the Withdrawal Agreement, whether likely or not, are very real.

One member, who wished to remain anonymous said, “I am worried that I cannot afford to pay for private medical insurance and will be left without recourse to any medical help at all.” Many others spoke of the effect on their mental health, such as Nicholas Evans, who said that despite feeling prepared and having made all the right arrangements, he still “felt awful” when Brexit actually happened. He said, “it has had a significant negative impact on my mental health. I feel disempowered, abandoned and betrayed.”

READ ALSO: How Britons can access Spain’s public healthcare if they’re not pensioners or working

Applications for Spanish residency was another hot topic, especially for those that had been unable to get appointments and were keen to legalise their status. Judith Hughes said, back in April, “I applied for my residency on 23 December, and I am still waiting. It was impossible to book an appointment,” adding “it is difficult to move on so many fronts without having residency” – a point made by many who are unable to process their driving licence applications. I am delighted to be able to report that, as I write this, Judith has finally had her residency application approved. She told me, “I can’t believe it has finally happened. I had started to think it never would. The stress has affected my quality of life. Finally getting my residencia does not take away from the fact that life has been made infinitely more stressful and complicated by Brexit”.


A singer performs at a British-owned bar during a Brexit celebration party in Jimera de Libar, Andalusia, Spain, on January 31st, 2020. Photo: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

There was another unexpected turn of events reported to Bremain last week by Mike Shaw. Mike had explained of the difficulties he faced running his own business now that UK qualifications are not recognised in many fields. He said, “the Spanish authorities have advised us that we can no longer operate our UK-flagged vessels, nor crew them with our UK-certified staff. We must re-flag the yachts as Spanish vessels and crew them with Spanish-certified staff or consider registering them in another EU member state.” Mike advised us on Thursday that his campaign to resolve this issue had been successful. A Spanish Royal decree has overturned the EU decision to ban UK-flagged commercial vessels under 14 meters, and to recognise the UK qualifications of his crew – proving how important it is to bring Brexit-related issues to the attention of the authorities.

Others, however, have not been so fortunate. Michael Soffe spoke of the impact of the loss of freedom of movement rights on his business, saying “I can no longer leave Spain to do short term work in other EU countries without getting the C-type EET business working visa.”

The affect Brexit is having on families is another major cause of concern, especially amongst those married to non-Brits. Spain’s position regarding dual citizenship means the children of British and Spanish parents have difficult choices to make, e.g., either choose to be Spanish and retain their freedom of movement or choose to be British and retain access to a UK university education at “local” prices. Many Brits married to Spanish citizens worry they won’t be able to return to the UK with their partners and children. Alan Brown stated, “my wife is Spanish, and thus, if, for whatever reason, we have to return to the UK, then it could be difficult for my wife to reside permanently in the UK.” Others were concerned not just about the post-Brexit migration rules, but by the hostile environment experienced by EU citizens in the UK. As this anonymous contributor said, “if returning to the UK to live, how will my Spanish wife be treated?”

Photo:  Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

From healthcare to residency, employment to family concerns, the issues were sadly familiar ones. What we hadn’t expected from our survey results was the level of mistrust in the UK government. A lack of confidence in government promises, and a concern over the rhetoric used by government ministers – not least from Lord David Frost, the minister responsible for implementing the Brexit agreement – was the most raised topic of all.

Lawrence Renaudon Smith said, “I still have some worries that in the future, the UK government may break its promises in the WA. I am a UK state pensioner and I no longer trust the UK government”. That was the reason, he said, why he had applied for Spanish citizenship. Colin Richardson said, “trust in the UK Government has never been lower”. Dannyandro Salisbury said simply that the government had “failed its citizens abroad”.

Many of the heartfelt, and indeed heart-breaking, testimonies were difficult reading, but we need to understand what difficulties UK nationals in Spain are still facing. As do the British government. That is why I was delighted to be invited to give evidence on 25 May to the newly formed House of Lords European Affairs Committee.

The committee is holding an inquiry on citizens’ rights and will be taking evidence relating to UK nationals in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK. The evidence I will be presenting will include the results of the BIBA survey, and many of our members testimonies. We hope the committee members will find them as revealing and moving as we did.

Of course, not all UK nationals, whether in Spain or across the EU have Brexit concerns. Whether for or against Brexit, many will be making every effort to forget all about it and get on with their lives. There is much to be said for putting the past behind us, accepting what we cannot change and looking to the future. For some, the Brexit effects will be barely noticeable. For others, minor adjustments will have to be made. But lets never forget those for whom the impact of Brexit has life-changing implications. They, more than most, need our sympathy, our support and our understanding. We hope the European Affairs Committee will see that too.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

Member comments

  1. Your article ” Life After Brexit” is not quite correct. You state that “A Spanish Royal decree has overturned the EU decision to ban UK-flagged commercial vessels under 14 meters, and to recognise the UK qualifications of his crew”
    To the best of my knowledge, no such Royal Decree has been published to date. I would be interested to know if you have heard otherwise.
    Thank you,
    Hugh Epsom

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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.