Decision of a generation: Expat business owners in Spain have their say on Brexit

Brexit fever has swept the nation, the continent, and even the world. Rob Horgan goes in search of answers among Spanish expats and Gibraltar business owners

LAST UPDATED: 17 Apr, 2016 @ 11:32

BrexitFROM euphoric pleas from politicians and world leaders to whispers down the pub between builders and bankers, the only thing anyone is talking about is Brexit.

Since the referendum was announced for June 23 everyone – allegedly including Her Majesty the Queen herself – has thrown their two cents (or pence) in.

Closer to Spain, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister has called on British expats to vote to stay in the EU. In an exclusive Olive Press dispatch last month Fabian Picardo urged voters to avoid ‘pointless risks’, pleading with Spain’s 319,000 British voters to join Gibraltar’s 23,000 votes to stay in.

After all, Spain has threatened to shut the border and pounce on Gibraltar should the UK leave.

But the far reaching impact of Brexit stretches further than Europa Point.

Just last week Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said ‘everyone’ down under is backing Britain to stay in, and at the end of the month US President Barack Obama will jet into the UK to urge Brits to stay in the EU.

And as voters gear up to go to the polls, an overwhelming focus from the world’s media and political figures has been on us expats, particularly in Spain.

Fabian Picardo in his No6 office
Fabian Picardo in his No6 office

Things were kicked off by Paul Drechsler, the boss of the UK’s most powerful business body, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), who threw his weight behind the Remain campaign.

He claimed that ‘nothing’ about a Brexit ‘would be better for economic growth’ and that Britain and British expats faced ‘a significant period of uncertainty’ should the Leave campaign succeed.

In fact, two-thirds of London’s insurers, brokers and service providers agree with Drechsler that Brexit would ‘severely damage’ the UK economy, according to business strategist Haggie Partners.

Drechsler’s claims were supported by Europe Minister David Lidington who warned of ‘a decade of uncertainty’ which involved the prospect of British people not being allowed to live in Spain.

British ambassador Simon Manley has also been urging expats to vote to stay in.
A spokesman for the ambassador’s office told the Olive Press that leaving ‘would have many serious implications for many of us living here’.

Europe expert on university studies Helen Drake heaped more misery on the prospect of Brexit, claiming that British students wanting to study abroad would likely be excluded from the Erasmus project which has enabled 200,000 EU students to study abroad since 1987.

Other sector officials have put forward similar concerns: interrailing around Europe will be closed off to Brits, roaming charges and mobile phones tariffs will increase and air travel will go through the roof, are just some of the fears Brexit brings with it.

And yet, despite all the neigh-saying, there are still few answers as to what Brexit could mean to expats and expat businesses in Spain.

Here are a few voices from around Andalucia and Gibraltar on how Brexit will, may and already is affecting their solace in the sun.

Campbell Ferguson
Campbell Ferguson

Campbell Ferguson, chartered surveyor, Survey Spain, Estepona

Brexit has probably already affected my business, in that there is uncertainty by buyers from the UK as to how they are to be treated in the future. If the decision is taken for the UK to withdraw from the EU then the period of uncertainty will last considerably longer until people find out what is to happen administratively.

There could also be some panic selling by UK owners.

Other nationalities might take it as an opportunity to acquire properties from ‘distressed’ sellers. In the long term, the effect is unknown, but it’s logical that Spain will endeavour to make things as easy as possible for their major market. However, one person’s logic is not always the same as another’s!

Most expats are likely to carry on as before and deal with matters as they occur. However, there will be some businesses that will be directly and immediately affected and they will have to make the decision whether to hang on or close down.

Andy Chapell, hotel owner, Molino del Santo, Benaoján

AndyIt is very difficult to predict what will happen to our business in case of a Brexit.

I feel sure that the pound will buy many fewer euros at least in the short to mid term. This will mean that our prices will seem more expensive to the British market which is an important proportion of our trade.

We know from experience when the exchange rate last dropped that we will sell fewer of our more expensive wines, for example. However I don’t think a poor exchange rate alone will deter people from visiting Spain from the UK to any significant extent, anymore than more complicated entry procedures if border controls tighten.

I suspect a Brexit would hit harder for expats living in Spain over the next few years. As many ‘locals’ visit Molino del Santo for special occasions I would expect that trade to experience a small downturn.

As an expat myself, on a personal level I am very concerned about a Brexit in terms of how it will complicate my life here and when I return to the UK. All expats must support the Remain campaign as far as I understand the issues.

Alex Radford, Solicitor, My Lawyer in Spain, Marbella

alexThe referendum to either leave or remain in the UE is a once in a lifetime decision which will have a profound impact on the future the EU and of the UK.

If the UK votes to leave then the UK will have a period of two years in which to negotiate its exit. Brits living in Spain for more than 183 days a year who present annual tax returns are considered Spanish tax residents. For foreigners living in Spain who are Spanish tax residents, I do not anticipate that much will initially change. However for Brits not living in Spain for more than 183 days a year, I expect the burden of tax relating to capital gains tax, inheritance tax and non residents income tax to increase.

Spain in the past has had a tendency to tax Brits and foreigners, who are non-Spanish tax residents, more than Spanish tax residents. This practice, quite rightly, has been brought to the attention of the European Court of Justice and Spain has been found to be discriminating against non Spanish tax residents.
Interesting to note that it was the European Court of Justice’s decisions which benefited Brits rather than the actions of the UK Government, and if there was a vote to leave the EU, the ECJ would no longer be looking after our interests.

Being outside the EU would likely impact income tax for expats. Typically it represents about 0.5% of the value of a property. Currently that rate of tax is 19% for residents of the EU.
If the UK were to leave the EU then this rate of tax is likely to increase to 24%, the rate that already applies to non EU residents.

Spain in all likelihood, would move quickly to strike a trade agreement with the UK to settle any nerves and ensure that we Brits continue to visit and invest in Spain.

I don’t expect British love affair with Spain to fizzle out just because of a relatively minor increase in taxation. However it would be important for those negotiating a trade deal with Spain to ensure that the British people are treated the same as Spanish tax residents.

Georgina Shaw, marketing expert, Shaw Marketing Services, Marbella

Georgina shawI personally believe that we should stay in the EU, as all of us expats are enjoying the benefits of free migration, Spain benefits from us as tax payers, plus our different ideas and cultures. As a Londoner I strongly feel that the city has been enriched by all the cultures who have moved there and that the vast majority of immigrants are benefiting the community by doing jobs that most English people don’t want to do, starting businesses and paying taxes.

I don’t think that an exit would impact our business very much as we are a Spanish registered company, predominantly dealing with local companies.

I would imagine it will have a short term impact on the amount of people moving to Spain as the uncertainty will make people think twice. But I think the relationship between the UK and the Costas will stay strong Brexit, or no Brexit.

Tancrede de Pola, mortgage broker, The Finance Bureau, San Pedro

P.25 COLUMN Tancrede (1)Whatever side of the fence you sit on, you cannot argue that a Brexit – and even the build-up to a referendum – is proving bad for business.
Last year was undeniably the best year since the crisis for economic growth and the restoration of the property market.That was largely due to Brits investing their hearty pound in business and property on the Costa del Sol.
But that trend has already begun to falter. Since the Brexit debate began, I have had clients prefer to put off their purchase because they are worried about Britain pulling out of the EU and the resulting effect on Sterling.

There is no doubt in my mind that the referendum is already taking its toll on expat business in Spain.

Unsurprisingly, scores of ready-to-be expats are postponing their foreign adventures until after the vote. No doubt they will come flooding back and Brits will continue to invest in Spain should the UK vote to stay.

As far as I’m concerned it is much better to stick with what we’ve got than twist and risk upsetting the apple cart.

Ian Le Breton, managing director, Soverign Trust, Gibraltar

Ian Le Breton
Ian Le Breton

This referendum really does matter to all Britons – including those of us based on the Rock.
The financial implications are of great interest to Spain, Gibraltar and the UK.

If we don’t like the incumbent government in Gibraltar or UK, there is an opportunity to change it every four or five years at our parliamentary elections.

But the decision as to whether we remain in the EU is not one that can be reversed in a few years’ time; it will be final.

The only certainty is that the uncertainty will grow over the coming weeks until ‘R-Day’ – Thursday, June 23 – when we go to the polls. And markets hate uncertainty.

I imagine the foreign exchange market will be one to watch and, of course, the euro to sterling exchange rate is always a hot topic on and around Gibraltar.

Similarly we can expect the stock market to wobble as the date approaches and the pollsters issue their predictions.

I may not be allowed to tell you how to vote but, with the decision apparently finely balanced, I can say that every vote will count; our freedom to exercise our democratic rights has never been more important.

Our referendum definitely matters and the government will take note of the result and we will all have to live with the consequences for years to come.

Meanwhile, across the pond…

Jacks-LogoJack Gaoini, writer and Olive Press contributor

The nation-wide food fight, otherwise known as the American electoral process, is in full swing these days. The candidates are loud and in full throated volume – strident and vitriolic.

Unfortunately, the issues that affect most Americans, namely income disparity, national debt, healthcare, gun-control, immigration, etc., are shelved in favor of personal attacks and hyperbole. Sadly, any discussion of “Brexit” or Britain’s possible exit from the European Union is minimal. But Britain’s June referendum will indeed matter to Americans and Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to the UK highlights this.

Britain has always been regarded by Americans as more aligned with our foreign policy preferences than other European states. The shared English language, the strong cultural and historical commonalities link the Britain and America in an intrinsic way. Recent history suggests that our two nation’s foreign policies have shared intelligence, nuclear technology and combat (e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan). As a result, Britain has been viewed as a natural ‘transatlantic bridge’ between Europe and America. More consequential however are the strong political and macro-economic legacies which forever bind British political thought to Americans. The theories of John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume, Sir Frances Bacon, Thomas Malthus, John Maynard Keynes et al., shape much of American intellectual thought. Whether Americans realise it or not, English political, cultural and economic heritage permeates American lives. That legacy affects our system of laws, our economic decisions, our priorities and, in sum, our everyday lives. No matter how the British vote in their June referendum, Americas will most likely view the implications as just one more example of our shared philosophies…just one more brick in the wall of what Winston Churchill famously called “Anglo-American Alliance”. We are cousins after all.

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  1. I don’t believe that the UK and Spain will stop talking to each other if the UK leaves the Euro community. As for the rock of Gibraltar and Spain – it will be business as usual – to cross the boarder don’t forget your bed sheets and sunglasses and vice versa during an election year.

  2. Outrageously biased article. Full of people with self interest. The referendum is about the future for British people in the UK not a few selfish estate agents and others in tourism. Then there is the CBI who receives EU grants and quotes 10 year old surveys from it’s members.

      • A British expat does not stop being British when they move to Spain, or elsewhere. They still have ties to the UK, family or a business etc, but choose to reside in another member country because that is their right. The referendum is not just about British people in the UK, it is about British people everywhere, and it affects British people in Europe just as much as is affects British people in the UK (if not more).

        @Hugo, interesting that you have a picture of Churchill in your gravatar, since he was very pro-Europe, indeed the EU list him as one of their founding fathers. And before you leap off to find some anti Europe Churchill quotes, don’t bother, there aren’t any lol.

  3. It looks like those who can afford a property in Spain will vote against brexit and those who can not and have to remain in the uk will support brexit
    Therefor those who want no brexit should manage that those brits that cannot afford a property in Spain will be enabled to buy a property on Spain.

  4. I searched this article in vain for one fact,one piece of research and didnt find any. Are the Euro agreements secret like the current so called trade agreements were or can people read them,compare that to previous trade policies (pre Euro) and make qualified educated remarks? btw my fellow American’s remarks were ,with all due respect, valueless. While historically true, they are irrelevant to the American markets,banks and most importantly, our Military-Industrial-Banking complex which actually operates the American “Empire” for its own profit and has no concern or interest in history,philosophy or humanity in general(unless they want to be soldiers). Read a history of the CIA for details on that.

  5. Marion,
    that sums up the whole Remain campaign – point the finger at the other side when it should be pointing at themselves and as you say self interest, not national interest.

    r.k. telling it like it is does’nt make you popular with your own countrymen does it, same in the UK, most prefer fairy tales to reality and for the same reason – they don’t have to do anything.

  6. I have studied politics for many years. I have listened to every public debate both for and against, I have read every report that I could find on the topic – anything that I did not know or understand, I cross referenced from reliable, independent sources. I will try to be tactful, although I am not a tactful person. I am disappointed to realise that many people on this site have not taken the trouble to read up on even one or two points that have been raised for this referendum considering that the decision is probably one of the most important in our lives. It will affect the electorate – and their families for many generations to come. Even if people have not had the time to read any of the details, the effects of the EU are obvious everywhere you go in the UK. The huge number of people sleeping rough on the streets, the long queues at the food banks, the largest number of unemployed the UK has ever known, the lack of jobs, young people unable to afford to buy a house, pensioners cannot afford to heat their homes in the winter because of the high cost of fuel etc., etc., Much of which is unnecessary! Some of you will say that most of this is due to our own Government – that is true, but our Government can only act within the limitations the EU provides. The EU itself by its very organisation, acts to prevent the innovation necessary in a changing market place – for that is what marketing is about – changing! The EU does not change, it cannot! It is too large a machine to adapt and it is stagnating the UK. After Brexit – we will be free to allow governance of our own country without having to wait for permission from the EU. We will be free to refer to our democratic right that began with the Magna Carta – to veto any Government policies that affect the people and the country and above all – we will be free to vote for who we want to manage our country. We will be free to introduce laws that suit this Island, it’s people and our resources specifically. We will once again be allowed to trade with the Commonwealth that we had to renounce under EU rules. We will be able to move forward. The commonwealth countries are stronger than any in Europe and Commonwealth rules are not intrusive on people’s lives. There are no such freedoms in the EU!

  7. It should be noted that if the British electorate are aware that media reports are biassed among those who are being allowed to take part in what is after all the United Kingdom referendum – then the referendum will automatically be classed as illegal, and those media sources would, under the rules of the referendum be open to procedures being taken against them.

    It is with great disappointment that I see that Spanish and Gibralter people are being kept ignorant of the true case for Brexit. The huge majority of British people are passionate about a Brexit, with only a very small minority of people, usualy those who benefit directly from the EU itself – opting otherwise. The people of Gibralter have no knowledge of the reasons behind Brexit, and they do not experience the same lives as those in the UK have having to suffer. They should not be allowed to vote!