The UK finally said farewell to the European Union on January 1 as the Brexit trade deal kicked in.
It’s a moment that genuinely led to moments of personal reflection for me over the futility of it all, but at least some consolation to be living in Spain, which is still under the EU umbrella.
This final unshackling UK unshackling from the EU was much more profound in my mind than a few British fishing boats now being allowed to catch more mackerel.
Cheap slogans and untruths plus a genuine anger with the political elite convinced enough voters on that fateful 2016 referendum day to stick two fingers up at Brussels and to enter the ‘promised land’ of milk and honey.
I await all the ‘good things’ with eager anticipation that have been promised but I suspect disappointment is far more likely, with a real impact for current and future expats in Spain.
There is a good personal reason why I hate Brexit and its down to my upbringing.
The EU was born out of the ruins of the Second World War and to make sure that there was never a repeat conflict, especially between France and (at the time) West Germany.
As a youngster I had that concept of a united Europe quickly implanted in me by my Polish parents, who became refugees in the UK after 1945.
My mother, who is still alive at 91, was taken away in 1939 from her home, and along with my grandmother, they ended up in a Siberian concentration camp.
My dad became a teenage member of the Polish Resistance movement and his activities included blowing up German vehicles.
He also witnessed first-hand the death of his girlfriend after she was shot by the Nazis.
My parents became refugees after 1945 and chose the UK as their home.
They found life difficult for a few years and arrived in a strange country unable to speak English.
They also encountered an anti-foreign streak amongst some British people who conveniently forgot that Polish airmen helped to win the Battle of Britain in 1940.
The horrors of war impacted the rest of their lives and there were few days in my upbringing that the consequences were not mentioned to me.
What I learnt in my childhood was the need for European cooperation and I was delighted that the UK joined the Common Market in 1973.
In 1975, I was a member of the ‘Keep Britain in Europe’ group in my town that campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum called by Harold Wilson, mainly as a means of sorting out splits in the ruling Labour Party.
On referendum day, I walked out of an O-Level General Science exam after just ten minutes and joined volunteers in knocking on doors to get out the pro-Common Market vote.
That’s how much Europe meant to me, but I was rubbish in science subjects anyway!
Fast forward to 2021 and our COVID-hit planet, which needs not just vaccines but economic reconstruction and international cooperation.
The UK is out there on its own while Spain is part of a bloc of countries that are about helping each other..
But as a post-January 1 expat in Spain, I now feel a wee bit different despite all the positive vibes from the authorities over here.
It’s as if I have had my membership of the EU club unfairly revoked after nearly 50 years of devoted loyalty and not breaking any rules.
Reports of British expats being wrongly turned away at UK and Spanish airports over not having the right ID documents was a chilling reality check.
Is this really the brave new world of Brexit?
The chair of Bremain in Spain, Sue Wilson, told the Olive Press; “Although this was in part due to COVID restrictions, the issue was our ability to prove to the authorities that we are legal residents – something that would never have happened before Brexit.”
“Although this was clearly a teething problem, it has heightened the level of fear and stress being felt by British residents.” she added.
A couple of my Spanish friends regularly chide me in a fun way that because I’m British, I must have gone along with Brexit and how stupid the UK was to vote to leave the EU.
I along with the overwhelming majority of British residents in Spain voted ‘Remain’ in 2016, and I enjoy reminding them of that.
I also point out how much money they put into the economy, including running businesses and the taxes they have to pay.
But what of the long-term future for new British residents?
Sue Wilson said: “It will take much longer for Brits in Spain to feel the full effects of Brexit. Meanwhile, we are still waiting to hear what the benefits of Brexit will be. It would appear to be a closely guarded secret.”
There was some good news for future retirees moving to Spain under the new UK-EU trade deal as it featured a guarantee over free access to Spanish healthcare and an annual uprate of the UK state pension.
But there’s worryingly news about a serious blow for potential holiday home buyers and retirees looking at Spain.
They will need plenty of money in the bank to get what is called a ‘non-lucrative’ visa as they now come from a non-EU country.
British councillor in San Fulgencio on the Costa Blanca, Darren Parmenter, told the Olive Press:
“The visa will cost £516 and the minimum monthly income required to qualify for the visa stands at €2,151. It will make it financially prohibitive for almost everyone and thus will reconsider their plans to make Spain their home. “
Darren continued: “This is very worrying for municipalities like San Fulgencio which has always attracted retirees. Those that have sadly died or returned to the UK have normally been ‘replaced’ by the next year’s intake and have kept that demographic steady.”
“Without doubt, this will now change, and I fear for the next 10 to 20 years as the numbers of UK residents diminish, and the consequences that will have on local businesses and the economy.”
Darren has called on the UK and Spanish governments to discuss the issue and look at some flexibility by realising that far more people from Britain want to come to Spain compared to other non-EU countries.
The old phrase of ‘decisions have consequences’ has never been truer than that 2016 referendum result.
I am truly saddened that lessons from history have been brushed aside along with a myopic UK vision of the future which will not be overturned in my lifetime.
But I will be forever grateful to my parents for giving me a vision that stretched well outside the coastal waters of the British Isles.