BRITISH expats in Spain have slammed the UK government saying they feel ‘betrayed’ and treated as ‘out of sight, out of mind’ since the EU referendum.
As the countdown to Brexit draws nearer – with just 68 days to go – campaigning group, Brexpats In Spain, held a meeting at Marbella Town Hall on January 10.
Expats had the opportunity to put their burning questions to Charmaine Arbouin, British Consul to Andalucia and the Canary Islands.
More than 90 showed up, including business owners, pensioners, families with children, campaigners, experts, and officials.
And it’s not only Brits who were worried about Brexit, but also Spaniards.
Miguel Diaz, spokesperson for Marbella’s left wing Izquierda Unida, expressed his concern for the 4,000 registered Brits living in the town and the 56,000 in the Malaga province and the negative impact Brexit could impose on the economy.
“The priority is to avoid or mitigate the serious social, economic and employment consequences that this abrupt abandonment of the EU may cause in five months’ time,” Diaz said.
Although attendees said they got a lot out of the meeting, some are still fearful about their future.
New expats, John and Shlinder, told the Olive Press they feel ‘betrayed’ by the referendum and have escaped the UK ‘because of Brexit’ which they believe has ‘divided the country’.
Brit, Shlinder, who was born to Indian parents, said she experienced racism for the first time after the result.
“I have been told to ‘go home’ and that ‘we don’t want you here’,” added the former business woman who worked in financial services.
“I am British, my first language is English, I’ve paid my taxes and never took any benefits, but since Brexit I’ve been told to ‘get out’. Quite frankly, it’s not the country I grew up in – it’s become hostile.”
The British couple bought a holiday home in Elviria in 2014 but took the plunge to permanently move there on October 23.
John, whose brother has also just moved to Spain to escape Brexit, said: “I just cannot live in or associate with that type of country.”
One point that was particularly evident, is that the clock is ticking to apply for residency as municipal town halls ‘struggle to cope with the demand’.
It was revealed that there are no appointments available until after April in Alicante, while in Fuengirola Brits will have to wait until the end of February, and Marbella-based expats are already looking at a three-week wait.
Founder of Brexpats, Anne Fernandez, and British Consul Arbouin, insisted that ‘now is the time’ to get residency.
And that is if we have a deal – no one could say, or guess, what could happen to expats if we crash out of the EU without one.
Many felt expats had been a ‘second thought’ in the EU dealings, including Fernandez, who has been fighting for Brits’ rights since the referendum result – something which many expats could not vote on, yet could completely change their lives.
“I have written to Theresa May several times and I’m sorry to say I have never had a reply.
“I have also written to Guy Verhofstadt [EU Parliament Coordinator] and he responded with a three-page letter within 10 days,” added the expat, who runs the 6,000-strong association, with representatives across Spain.
“I feel we are out of sight and out of mind for the UK government.”
Consul Arbouin admitted to the Olive Press that the political uncertainty of Brexit had been a ‘daunting’ time for herself and the team, who are at the forefront of managing expats’ expectations in one of the busiest British Consuls in the world.
“It can be a little bit daunting when you know people aren’t getting answers to their questions,” added Arbouin who has been the Consul for six years.
“However, we have been able to influence the negotiations by having these kinds of meetings with the community and feeding it back to London.
“The main message I wanted everyone to take away is that whatever the outcome is of brexit, the best way they can protect themselves and stay here without any hassle is simply by registering.
“That’s the same advice whether there’s a deal, no-deal or anything in between.”
Meanwhile, pensioner Judy Filmer – a member of Brexpats in Spain – told the Olive Press she is particularly concerned about the plummeting pound, which stood at around 0.9 to €1 when this article was published.
The Londoner, who has lived in Marbella for 19 years, said she has lost money due to the ‘rubbish’ exchange rate.
“It’s dropped so low – for pensioners that’s really hard,” she added.
“It’s had a knock on effect with the banks in Spain. If you have money invested – like I do – that has dropped by almost 40%. I can’t get money from the bank, until those investments go up again.”
Despite this Filmer said she would never go back to the UK.
“They couldn’t care less about us, that has been made very obvious. We were the last thing they thought of in the whole deal.”
For self-employed real estate agent, Sharon Hitchcock, her legal working status is the main concern, and is angry that she, like most expats, never got to vote.
“Come 29th March we will be known as third nation immigrants. Someone else voted on changing my identity. That’s totally wrong because I didn’t get a vote,” added the Welsh expat who has lived in Mijas for 29 years.
She and other expats said they have even started to notice jobs advertisements on expat Facebook groups looking for ‘only EU residents’.
The Brexpats in Spain member is concerned about the real estate industry, given that Brits are the largest group of foreign investors, making up 15% of foreign sales.
“I’m also worried about how that affects me being self-employed.
“If we crash out on 30th March who do I invoice? Am I legal? Can I work? We don’t know.”
Voting was another strong point highlighted in the meeting, with expat residents still unable to vote in regional or national elections in Spain, nor in the UK.
“We can’t vote anywhere. We have lost a basic human right. We pay taxes, we work. What purpose do we serve then?” questioned founder Fernandez.
She stressed that expats can vote in local municipal elections if they register to vote ahead of the of January 30 deadline.
With mystery and confusion still glooming like a dark cloud over expats, experts and Consul Arbouin insisted that expats should make sure they have all legal documents such as NIE, Padron, residencia and health cards.
Let’s hope the next 68 days start to become clearer for the British community in Spain, not only for expats but for the Spanish economy too.