27 Jul, 2016 @ 09:00
3 mins read

Giles Tremlett: Why British expats need dual nationality

Giles Tremlett

-GILES3.jpg de Producción ABC-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.

To sign the petition (and that of the Olive Press) click here.

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

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    • h davies, you may or may not be right and you’re entitled to your opinion. However, there are many people like myself and Giles who are here for the long term. Our children were born here, we work and pay taxes here. The biggest problem is the UNCERTAINTY.
      Many people have suggested that we want the best of both worlds. Well, the reality is that I have a foot in each world , both economically and culturally. I have 30 years paid up in the UK Pension – S/S system and I also have 15 years paid into the Spanish system: What will happen? Have I been paying additional voluntary contributions to the UK for nothing? I don’t consider myself to be ‘loony left’ , in fact the opposite and I’m not a rich pensioner living in a mini- England on one of the Costas.

  1. Dual nationality is the thin end of a very big wedge and is only suitable for a few people. Most expats in Spain are retired and/or residential tourists and only live in Spain for 10-15 years so this is irrelevant to them.

    Dual nationality is not a long term solution because it doesn’t help Brits who want to move to Spain in the future does it? Brexit has made people very inward looking.

  2. Why doesn’t Tremlett take Spanish citizenship, he’s time qualified, obviously loves his life in Spain, what’s not to like? The way I see it he’s wants the best of both world’s, why is it so hard to ditch that UK passport? And of course anyone that has lived outside of UK for more than 15 years shouldn’t have a say in what happens in their old country.

    • People who pay taxes in their country of birth, have family there and continue to feel that their identity is based on that country’s culture and language, as well as that of the country in which they now live, should not be deprived of the right to vote. This basic right is recognized by many countries, including France, and I look forward to the UK restoring this right to UK citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years. A lot of those disenfranchised people have been working abroad for British companies or British government and/or cultural institutions to promote trade and mutual relations between the UK and their country of residence.

  3. If you ask the Spanish for their OK to a dual identity then you have to offer them something as a give-back. What about dual administration of Gibraltar? Mr. Margallo had already made a proposal into that direction.

  4. I have lived here in Spain for most of my life. Many of us residents, similarly, are long-servers and, of course, we couldn’t vote in this referendum. Normally, who wants to vote in British affairs anyway, but, when they affect us…
    So why not take Spanish citizenship? Well, why should I? I’m European. What would be much more useful to me (and the twenty million or so other Europeans living an another EU country) would be an internal European Passport – a European I.D. that would keep me safe from the piffling British jingoist politicians. Similarly, while Giles Tremlett is right to call for national MPs to care for the British diaspora (the French parliament has several), we should take this further and look for MEPs in Brussels to represent that same twenty million collective – the Second Class Europeans. Frankly, I don’t see myself as an ex-pat: I’m a Europat.

  5. It seems incredibly unfair that some people could get dual nationality when others cant. I assumed my son’s future would involve possibly living and working in EU. many friends husbands currently work in Europe because there are fewer jobs here in Scotland for them and they have had to. My brother worked in France for a good few years but is not now …. we need to Remain and we need to retain our EU citizenship. I think the EU needs to look carefully at itself and those things which have annoyed the perhaps general citizen, but UK needs to Remain – and we need to have another Referendum soon as lots of people who voted Brexit regret it now – but we need to do it soon before there are too many job losses or science contracts lost.
    And many of us still had retained that dream of retiring abroad – as a future.

  6. It seems incredibly unfair that some people could get dual nationality when others cant. I assumed my son’s future would involve possibly living and working in EU. many friends husbands currently work in Europe because there are fewer jobs here in Scotland for them and they have had to. My brother worked in France for a good few years but is not now …. we need to Remain and we need to retain our EU citizenship. I think the EU needs to look carefully at itself and those things which have annoyed the perhaps general citizen, but UK needs to Remain – and we need to have another Referendum soon as lots of people who voted Brexit regret it now – but we need to do it soon before there are too many job losses or science contracts lost.
    And many of us still had retained that dream of retiring abroad – as a future.

    • Jennifer Wilson. It’s strange how certain people on this forum tend to make comments on the democratic vote of a Brexit when negotiations have not even started yet between the UK and the EU and believe the point made by Theresa May is correct in stating that EU members wishing to remain in the UK depends on how the EU’s attitude is towards expats in the EU. Rest assured a compromise will be reached regarding the whole immigration policy which will be beneficial to everyone and your dream of retiring to Spain will come to fruit. I also agree with you that dual Nationality is wrong, only one, and one either become a resident or perhaps a domicile in another country and not change willy nilly to suit personal needs and almost every country in the World have rules and regulation regarding residential status and the UK and the EU is no exception. The whole episode of the Brexit is to deep subject to go into on a comments column, wait and see.

  7. To take out Spanish nationality one needs to be fluent in Spanish , problem is glaringly oblivious that nearly All Brit residents simply haven’t ever bothered to learn the language of their ‘adopted’ country which after, in some case 20-30 years is nothing short of a disgrace & lack of trying to integrate with the Spanish in any shape or form but live mainly in little Britain ghettos !
    Stop moaning for Gods sake , take Some responsibility for your own lives, decisions and actions, did you all Really think you could live happily ever after on a State Pension & live in the sun like Lotus Eaters ? Incredible so many of you are still there !
    One good thing after the recession it forced back all the chavs & lowlife back to UK , Spanish villages are now peaceful, no more dodgy Brit ‘builders’ , plumbers etc!
    Wonder how many of you miseries ever employed a real competent Spanish builder , probably very few, always want something for nothing or as cheap as possible , that’s why so many are wingeing about Brexit, only because of their bloody pensions, not a thought of what’s best for UK !
    Dream on, try to get a Spanish Passport , but do learn the language & show respect for the country YOU decided to make home !

    • You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish to take Spanish nationality, just have a reasonable knowledge. I do agree though that there are many Brits living in Spain who have no grasp of the language whatsoever, which is a shame as they miss out on so much.

  8. J Wilson,
    perhaps you should do some research as to why so many jobs have been lost in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Many British companies who did’nt give a damn for their own country and only for increased profits took advantage of EU bribes to relocate their businesses to Eastern Europe. You should also ask why German/Dutch, Danish bosses don’t have this venal selfish attitude.

    The writer of this article comes across as someone who has’nt got a clue about how big business operates. Did he really think that nothing would change as the years rolled by. For those who talk about a European passport and the 20 million who work in other EU countries – the vast majority could’nt give a damn about the countries they moved to and are simply economic migrants. If the position was reversed does anyone really think that as economic migrants they would be welcomed with open arms into Poland,Romania, the Baltic States, Hungary.

    This focus on Brexit exposes the insular mentality of so many Brits. They should be thinking about the collapse of the Italian banks or the shaky state of so many German, French and Belgian banks. That the huge amount of debt created by the ECB that can never be repaid.

    Zero or near zero % rates are destroying the banking system across Europe. The torrent of really cheap money has created unsustainable asset bubbles, especially in property. The rising cost of unemployment, sustained by ever increasing national debt across the EU. A generation of young people that have no hope – truly dangerous in it’s implications and of course – robotisation, that will make today’s unemployment seem like a golden age – forget Brexit, concentrate on the real dangers to your way of life.

  9. Stuart,
    You don’t sound quite as upbeat as you should.
    Cheap green PV power is about smash the utilities stranglehold on the energy market.
    Multi-material/nano scale 3D printing will provide you with everything you’ll ever need.
    Artificial general intelligence will work out what to print and how to use the printer so you don’t have to.
    Advances in robotics means you’ll never need to lift a finger again unless you want to.
    The youth of today have never had a brighter future.
    Chin up, the zombie apocalypse isn’t going to happen.

    • Tendency for technology for its own sake which in turn reshapes sociopolitical structure to disregard morality and humanity as ‘unproductive.’ Jacques Elll, ‘The Technological Society’ 1964. For example, new iPhone production is more important than the harsh living conditions of those who make them.

    • Sounds like Star Trek Boulder. The “Replicator” (3D printer) put paid to money and work. Advanced A.I. took care of health and learning. Some form of nuclear fusion provided power. Maybe we should give those scriptwriters the lead in how to run the coming renaissance. Bet there’ll still be a version of Borg and Klingons though.

  10. Boulder,
    I don’t know what your on or what planet you came from but I suggest you study what the biped species does to each other on this planet – theory from theory does’nt work here.

    • Stuart, Did you catch up on the 27 countries (so far) wishing to join Britain’s free trade agreements. £40 billion with billions more to follow once we leave the EU instead of 12/14 billion with the EU. It has also been suggested that Britain should walk away from any deal with the EU if detrimental to Britain. As for immigration of EU members into Britain I think a (so called free movement) can be accommodated for EU members like in the day’s prior to the EEC, ie; a work permit providing you have a bona fide job offer. I would go just that little bit further by suggesting that new arrivals should have a Health Insurance Policy before access to the NHS and the lucrative benefit system with full employment for at least 5/7 years. NHS emergency treatment only, other than that, go back to country of origin for full treatments. Could go on and on about many things but would take too long. As for Scotland another story. People must understand and accept that Brexit means Brexit.

  11. Arnez,
    there was a perfectly good system in operation before WW11 right across Europe. When my father was just 16 he decided to apply for a job in a hotel in the Italian Alps, circa 1925. He got the job because an Italian got a job in the UK, that is how simple the system was. When he arrived in Strezza, he went to the local employment bureau, to register. He saw southern Italians being told to go home “we have no work for you”. In 6 months he spoke fluent Italian and French.
    If this system was still in place then western European countries would not have been flooded with East Europeans, they would have been forced to look for other solutions to their chronic unemployment. Also the UK would have been forced to train and retrain our own people, good for the UK, bad for the greedy elite in the Nasty party and the Blairite scum who clamoured to let in the East European countries.

  12. Whilst I agree with what you have written, it’s also left me a little confused. It was my understanding that the Spanish requirement to renounce previous nationality was merely little more than a formality nowadays. My case is that I will arrive at 10 years in Spain in 2018, so the current delay in officially announcing Brexit has been a godsend, meaning I should be able to arrange the legalities of staying in spain before the time the UK leaves the EU. But dual nationality uk/spain would have been be my ideal solution.

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