By Giles Tremlett
THE result was as devastating as it was surprising.
With the Brexit referendum, David Cameron gambled on the future of 1.3 million Britons living in Europe and lost. It cost him his job. It might cost us a lot more than that.
The subsequent meltdown of the Conservative and Labour parties is no consolation, when we have been cast into limbo while they play strategic – and often personal – political games.
Wiser heads tell me not to worry, that Brexit will not be such a big deal.
But that ignores the here and now, as well as the years during which Brexit is negotiated. It also assumes, wrongly, that British politicians are on our side.
Those of us who came to Spain ten, 20 or 30 years ago did so in the knowledge that, by moving to an EU member state, we would be guaranteed our rights – and know our obligations – as European citizens.
Yet who can now make life plans, for their family, their career, their personal finances or their offspring, when nobody in government bothered to prepare for this?
If, like me, you were banned from voting because you had lived abroad for more than 15 years, then the result is an imposition. Our EU citizenship has been taken away, and there is nothing we can do about it.
Or is there?
The day after Brexit I found myself on the same television programme, Al Rojo Vivo, as foreign minister José García-Margallo.
I was asked why I did not apply for dual nationality. I had to explain that Spanish law prohibited it. Even the minister seemed surprised.
His own son, he told me, was asking for double nationality in the UK. I had not realised that Spaniards in the UK can take dual nationality after five years.
This is the background to a change.org campaign I have set up with fellow journalist William Chislett, asking for joint nationality for Britons who have lived for ten years in Spain.
This requires a relatively simple change to Spanish legislation. It was only last year, after all, that the PP government offered double nationality to Sephardic jews (the descendants of those expelled in 1492).
Germany is considering making a similar offer to Britons who live there. This is encouraging.
We estimate there are around 25,000 Brits living in Spain who might take up the offer.
This is only a guess. We believe that by restricting the petition to those who have paid social security contributions or taxes, our petition is stronger.
We intend to avoid the British government, at least for the moment, so as not to become a bargaining chip for politicians whose priorities are radically different to ours.
Instead, we will take the petition straight to the Spanish government. Our plea is based on reciprocity, on the special status thrust upon us by Brexit and on our proven commitment to Spain.
Dual identity is a reality. Once you have lived in a country for ten years you have already shed a significant part of your old identity.
Trips ‘home’ gradually seem stranger (the list is endless: my list starts with ‘child-free’ pubs and Top Gear) and your country of adoption becomes more and more familiar.
That is so for Spaniards in Britain, and for Britons in Spain.
The worries caused by Brexit are real and immediate. Will we have the right to leave and then return years later?
Can our children leave in order to study, and then return to seek work?
If you cannot find work, must you leave? Will Britons be excluded from certain categories of jobs? What about elderly parents who may have to be brought over and looked after?
Uncertainties such as these will only encourage people to return to the UK. That is not good for Spain either.
Pressure must also now be put on new Prime Minister Theresa May to protect the futures of all 1.3m people living here.
Spain has the largest community of Britons in Europe.
Is it not time, also, to organise a response?
Another argument, which I am glad to see backed here, is one I floated in the Guardian a few years ago – that expats should, like the French or Italians, have their own MPs in Westminster.
It is now also being pushed by a new Olive Press campaign, launched last issue… and I hope you will all sign it too.
‘Politics’, the clever strategists of Podemos say, is ‘something you do or get done to you’.
With Brexit, it is something that has been ‘done’ to many of us.
This petition is a first attempt at salvaging something from the wreckage.
Please sign, and encourage Spanish friends to do so as well.
Giles Tremlett is the Economist’s Madrid correspondent, author of best-selling book The Ghosts of Spain and fellow of the Cañada Blanch centre at the London School of Economics