How could Brexit affect Spanish ‘Brexpats’?

Jo Chipchase examines the latest state of play…

LAST UPDATED: 17 May, 2016 @ 20:20

By Jo Chipchase

WHETHER you view it as a major event or a huge media circus “Brexit” – Britain’s referendum on whether to leave the EU – is causing much deliberation amongst British expats here in Andalucia. With just six weeks until voting day on June 23, the hordes of ‘Brexpats’ are wondering what impact a “leave” vote could have on the security of their lives in Spain. 

BrexitSupport for the “remain” camp is clearly high amongst the local expat population, with fewer people publically voicing “leave” sentiments. On some online forums, members say they will be “ashamed” of a Britain that wants to stand alone in Europe as a “Little England”. Others argue that “the EU would be better off without Britain inside” – what with its “neo-liberalism” and being a “springboard for the US”. Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists say that Brexit is “a big smokescreen” and that the UK balloting system is rigged, so why bother voting anyway. However, these people have not specified what the smokescreen is supposedly hiding.

If Britain does withdraw from the EU, the impact on the estimated 319,000 Brexpats based in Spain is a shot in the dark: nobody knows exactly where the bullet is heading. Will it pass wide or the mark, hit hard and inflict serious injury or cause just minor wounds? One obvious impact could be the withdrawal of the Brits’ right to use the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which gives access to Spain’s healthcare services for emergency and short-term treatment, free of charge.

Brexit could also potentially affect ‘residencia’ applications from Brits who want to live legally in Spain. Currently, EU citizens have the automatic right to apply if they prove they can support themselves financially, without straining the Spanish social security system. What about the thousands of Brits living here, who own properties but do not have ‘residencia’? It is speculated that those already based in Spain will be subject to the Vienna Convention, the law of treaties between states, which protects their rights to remain. Despite some people’s fears, it is highly unlikely that Spain would herd its thousands of Brits to Santander and board them on a ferry back to England.

If Brexit is voted in, the free movement of Brits across the EU for work or other reasons will need to be renegotiated. Some pundits suggest that travel visas might be required for Brits to enter other EU countries, including Spain. However, British tourism is far too important to the Spanish economy – and has been since Franco’s era – to let short-term passport issues stand in the way.

Brexit is more likely to hit Brexpats hard where it hurts: in the wallet. Since Brexit became big news in early 2016, Pound Sterling (GBP) has struggled against the Euro and other global currencies, taking a fall from 1.43 against EUR in December 2015 to lows of 1.23 recently. What will happen to GBP after an actual withdrawal from the EU is unknown but some experts are predicting a Sterling crisis. Others say this will not happen: that Sterling will become stronger away from a floundering EU. Unknown currency movements are a worry to those who earn their funds in Sterling and transfer into Euros.

A negative impact could also be felt on mobile phone roaming tariffs and air fares. Brits would no longer have the EU’s protection against the operating standards of airlines, as well as probably losing their consumer protection laws from the EU.

In the event of a “yes” vote, the adjustment period to a Brexit could take several years. And, with opinion polls running close as to whether “leave” or “remain” will win on June 23, the marginal (“don’t know”) voters will play an important role. Research shows that older voters – the over-60s – are more likely to vote “leave”: sometimes based on emotive reasons. Take this real-life discussion between a “remain” supporter and her “leave” mother as an example:

Remain supporter: “Can you tell me one rational reason why the UK should leave the EU?”

Leave supporter: “It is the Germans. We cannot let them tell us what to do… They make rules up and we have to follow them in our own country.”

Remain supporter: “Please explain. Who makes them up?”

Leave supporter: “People all think they can just come into our country…”

It invariably goes like this: Shadowy figures in Europe telling us what to do. The Germans. We cannot let them dictate to us. They are all coming to Britain to claim our benefits. Britain should be more British and make its own rules.

As well as remembering WW2, the older voters seem to have a disproportionate fear of immigration. A recent opinion poll showed that 45% of “leave” voters are concerned with “immigration”: this is the key concern, above “the economy”, “trade”, “terrorism control”, etc.

Although immigration into the UK has increased phenomenally in recent years, not all of it is from the EU: the UK population actually comprises 5% of migrants from the EU, half of whom admittedly arrived between 2006 and 2014. Research shows that more than 75% of EU migrants to the UK are gainfully employed, compared to 74% of the UK population. However, the “benefit scrounger” idea remains firmly in place.

Significantly, older Brexit voters will not have to live with the long-term consequences of their “leave” votes. The younger generations and their children will be the ones to experience the potential fall-out. For the thousands of Brits in Spain, there’s no crystal ball to predict how the future will be, in the face of a Brexit. And how ironic that the vote occurs on the fiesta day of San Juan – June 23. Will this traditional day of celebration also permanently mark the day when Britain isolated itself from the rest of Europe and cast its expats into… what?

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  1. In my opinion, it will come down to how the British Government, following a ‘Brexit’, treats the Spaniards working/studying/living in the UK. Whatever the treatment to them – benign or more likely hostile – we can expect the same treatment for us from Madrid.

  2. The “treatment” will be driven solely by financial considerations. Whatever scams become available, due to the changes, will be implemented with alacrity. That’s when the true resentment to Brit attitudes will manifest itself.

  3. Can I ask why all these British expats are living in Spain without having obtained Spanish Residencia, which is the law after being in the country for more than 90 days, so they are all here illegally anyway.

    • Anton, the only legal form of residency is tax residency. The 90 day Resedencia should really be applied for, but you will find that those who don’t apply for it are back and forth and get no benefit from applying for it. The 183 day rule is the one most expats adhere to as it has tax penalties. Btw, it is perfectly allowable to be tax resident and not qualify to register on the foreigners list. Similarly, it is possible to be on the foreigners list and not be a tax resident.

  4. I think the biggest problem is that we have been and are being continuously lied to about EU rules. There is no EU rule about the shape of bananas, the EU does not care if we buy “pints” of beer, everything that we moan about is blamed on EU rules, its like Health and Safety they never said children could not play with conkers. If you live in Spain you know how much Spain takes note of “EU rules”, I think the other members apply what they want and silently ignore rulings they do not like. If our government had some backbone the EU would be good for us.

    • Can’t tell from this Clive, whether you’re a “remainer” or “leaver” but that was a totally accurate observation you made. Add to that, if Cameron had some backbone, regarding UKIP and his own swivel-eyed back-benchers, we would not be having this idiotic exercise now.

      • I think we should stay in, I think the benefits far outweigh the downsides but as I said we just need a government with the peoples interest at heart (not going to happen), and the press to print facts and not make it up to sell papers (that’s not going to happen either).

  5. Teresa May has put a dynamic group to exit UK from the EU how will they impress the other 27 members to obtain the best possible terms. The French Foreign minister is not impressed as are other members many of whom haven’t shewn their hand.
    Will it acutally happen? May be the the terms are so unpalateble to the UK they may well regret the vote to leave. The Government of the UK may well call a general election with facts of the terms of exit.
    If article 50 has been invoked then they up the creek with out a boat or paddle.

    They can ask to rejoin but will the other states want them?

    • I particulary loved Boris Johnson’s speech where he said we need to “come togerher as a union”. What a total plonker. The UK is a laughing stock with him as Foreign Secretary. I can’t remember a member of the government being booed off the stage in recent times. I think Boris could be replaced pretty quickly if this continues.

        • Yes, that crossed my mind. Boris negotiating trade with Europe (and beyond) will be hilarious and excruciating at the same time, and it may eventually add weight to the government forgetting about article 50 altogether.

          • Boris has a very important role to fill. Think about the amount of business he generated as Mayor of London – he achieved that as an extrovert; a showman, if you will. These will be the qualities that he will bring to his new role, as the UK determines how they will make up the trading loss with the EU.
            Ms. Merkel seems to have been very quiet since the Brexit decision….probably thinking about the tariffs that the UK may apply to those nice, shiny, luxury, new German cars…..

  6. I’m a remained but vote has been made and the will of the people, however naieive and misled, must be followed. It will not stop the sun coming up in the morning and without Germany’s help no country except them can afford to shun the uk in negotiations. We are in a strong position which is why the French are upset. They had plans for our money over the next 10 years same as the Spanish.

  7. I don’t think Brexpats will experience much difference once the dust settles in over 2 yrs time, temporary exchange rate problems for pensioners and home buyers, but sellers if you can sell, converts back in your favour for stg.

    • The UK pensioners may lose more than just the changes in exchange rates – at least the 108,000 in Spain, since Spain does not have any social security agreements with the UK, the UK pensioners living in Spain may also lose out on the annual increase to their state pension. Over 245,000 UK pensioners living n Australia, and another 140,000 UK pensioners living in Canada have had their State Pension forever. One pensioner I know in Canada, over an 18 year retirement period, has received nearly £25k less than he would have if he had stayed in the UK, or retired to the USA, Spain, or any EU country.

      If you think you might be affected by this, check out britishpensionsDOTcom for more details…

  8. Mike, the problem is that nobody knows what kind of deal expats will get and I certainly don’t have any faith in David Davis. It has created a lot of worry and uncertainty and it is very likely that Brits with interests in Spain will be adversely affected. I can already see that self preservation is setting in (for example dual nationality does not help future Brits who want to live in Spain) and people have stopped thinking about future generations who might want to work or retire to other EU member states. What about people who split their time between the UK and Spain? How will they be affected, can anyone guarantee that they will still be able to spend 50% of the year in Spain? Can we have some cast iron guarantees from the Brexiteers?

    Not everyone wants to sell their place in Spain and if they do, the market is pretty poor, partly because of Brexit, so any gain on the exchange rate is likely to be offset by a low sale price.

    Fred, I would rather have Boris as Brexit Minister because he was not a genuine Brexiteer and didn’t really want to leave the EU and he would probably get us a better deal than Davis.

    Brexit is not shaping up well at all and so far it seems to be all about self preservation, closing down opportunities for future generations and creating economic uncertainty. I disliked the EU as much as anyone but this is a load of pants and the worst is yet to come. The timing of the referendum was completely wrong. The EU will have to radically reform anyway because it cannot survive in its current form so it would have been far more sensible to just sit tight for now.

    • Boris has lost all credibility, having supported the EU for so long and then u-turning during the referendum. Brexiteers have no plan, that’s the most worrying aspect. David Davis is talking utter nonsense when he says he can curtail any “surge” in EU immigration prior to full exit from the EU. At the moment there has been no change whatsoever, and article 50 is not even on the horizon, so he cannot stop any EU immigration whatsoever.

    • David Davis says that he can curb EU immigration, whilst still being in the EU. So why didn’t the government do that earlier then? Seems they had the power all along, and so there was no need for a referendum after all, as immigration from the EU could have been controlled.

    • Jane asking for guarantees from any Politicians including Brexiteers is like fantasy land, you’re not going to get them IMO. ‘Brexit is not shaping up well’ give it time, who knows what will happen? I think you are worrying far too much at this juncture, a lot of ‘what ifs’ that haven’t been worked out yet, and I still think Brexpats will see little difference. Do you think Spain or any EU country will really make life difficult for large Brexpat communities who contribute to their economies, if they did, then they would kill off any house buying from Brits? They rely a lot on property and tourism, as well as exports, won’t they want that anymore? I’d be more concerned if I was an estate agent in Spain or other EU countries.

      I doubt any of us can really change things to suit ourselves.