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.
Support 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?