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17 Mar 2017

British expats in Spain fight for their EU rights

Many groups of British expats have sprung up across Europe, since the United Kingdom opted for exiting the European Union. One of them is a group that was founded in Spain, named Eurocitizens.

Long-term British residents of Spain are running the organisation. They say that they are campaigning to preserve the rights of Britons in Spain, but also the rights of Spaniards in Great Britain. 308,000 Britons stay in Spain which is the number one destination for Brits living outside the UK, France coming 2nd with 185,000. Almost 60,000 of them work in Spain, self-employed or not. British nationals own 110,000 properties in the country of Pablo Picasso and Federico Garcia Lorca. One third of the British residents are pensioners that went to live in Spain, seeking for good weather, a well-established healthcare system and the relaxed Mediterranean lifestyle.

Brexit seems to endanger the way of life that Britons have in EU countries like Spain, France and Cyprus. UK politicians try to convince them that nothing is going to change even when the UK will no longer be a member of the EU. Negotiations still haven’t started and, for now, Britons are counting more on the EU’s willingness to accommodate their needs, than May’s plans for them. Eurocitizens group is one of those groups that fights for the rights of the British expats.

A roundtable was organised in Madrid by the group and the EU Parliament to discuss the problems that might come up because of Brexit. Michael Harris, vice president of the group, blamed the UK electoral law that prevents citizens, who have lived for more than 15 years abroad, to cast their ballot. Harris commented that 80% of the 1,2 million Britons that live in the EU, didn’t participate in the vote that left expats “in a legal limbo or better call it purgatory.”

Harris said that the UK government refused repeatedly to listen the Eurocitizens’ opinion in the matter and that its members, just like any expat, want to have the right to work and live in the EU without various permits. Spanish Socialist senator Jose Montilla encouraged all, affected by Brexit, citizens to press their governments as much they can, during the difficult negotiation process. Montilla added that people should come first and that the priority should be given to securing their right to live either in the UK or in EU, as it is now.

Tim Hemmings, deputy ambassador at the British Embassy in Madrid, tried to reassure the British expats that their rights won’t change, and urged them to be in contact with the embassy when they need any information on this matter. Hemmings was optimistic enough to say that “even though we are leaving the EU, we are not leaving Europe. We are Europeans.”

Robert Robinson, a Business Administration professor at the University of Comillas, talked about the dangers of Spaniards leaving their jobs in the UK. He said that “the economy will suffer losing all that talent and I am pessimistic for the consequences of Brexit in the education system, when EU funding seizes.”

British expats are concerned about their future and wonder what they are going to do if they are asked to leave their homes in the EU. The uncertainty that Theresa May’s government has created doesn’t help at all, and it seems that tough times are ahead for them.