AFTER spending almost every summer in Spain for fifty years Sue Baines and husband Dave Cronin couldn’t wait to buy their very own apartment on the Costa del Sol.
Five years ago they found the perfect spot – a flat overlooking the seafront in the idyllic town of Estepona where the pair could leave behind rain and responsibilities in the UK and enjoy long, hot days in the sunshine.
But their carefree retirement plans were short lived. Not long after they purchased their dream home, the UK voted to leave the European Union.
“When Brexit was announced we were horrified,” said Dave, 73, who voted to remain. “We knew it would have terrible consequences for British people living in Europe, but no one could have predicted how much of a complete and utter disaster it would be.
“I don’t think the British Government is fully aware of the hidden consequences of Brexit affecting the day to day life of people in Europe.”
Now after five months riding out the pandemic from their holiday home, Sue and Dave are among the thousands of Brits forced to return to the UK by March 31.
“It’s terrible timing. The restrictions are lifting and the sun has arrived, it really is the perfect time to be here,” said retired musician Sue, 69. “We’ve always been able to come and go as we please and now we are no longer able to stay in our own home. We have no choice in the matter. We will become illegal immigrants from the end of next week. It is disastrous.”
Roughly half of the estimated 800,000 British property owners in Spain have residency, but the rest, like Sue and Dave can now only spend a maximum of 90 days in the country during any 180-day period.
Sue said: “It doesn’t make sense for us to become residents as we only spend three months a year here and the process of getting residency is long and complicated.
“But now our hands are tied. We have to go back whether we like it or not.”
Dave agreed: “Brexiteers say they voted for freedom but I don’t feel free. I feel diminished.”
Due to coronavirus travel restrictions, the task of returning to the UK hasn’t been easy on the pair – or their finances.
The couple are preparing to shell out nearly £800 in travel expenses and COVID tests and have already had four flights cancelled since the start of the year. They say their tickets to fly home to Manchester on March 28 is ‘final chance’.
“If we fail our Covid tests or if the airline cancels the flight we immediately become illegal immigrants through no fault of our own. It’s daunting,” said Dave.
Sue added: “We’ve called the British Embassy to find out what happens if we do get stuck here and they’ve been absolutely no help. They can’t tell us anything. We’re completely at the mercy of the Spanish authorities.
“What really makes me sad is the division it is causing. The people of Europe are our neighbour but now it feels like it is them vs us. It’s a very frightening thing.”