ON Tuesday 25 May, Sue Wilson, the chair of Bremain in Spain presented evidence to the newly formed House of Lords European Affairs Committee on behalf of UK nationals living in the EU.
Here she tells Olive Press readers about the continuing fight for the rights of British citizens in Spain and across Europe.
With the exception of an evidence gathering session last week with Lord David Frost – the chief Brexit negotiator – this was the first meeting of the new committee.
It was therefore encouraging news that the first topic for discussion on the committee’s priority list was citizens’ rights.
The committee, despite being new, are reasonably knowledgeable on the subject of Brexit. Most of the members, including the chair, Lord Kinnoull, were previously members of the now defunct House of Lords EU Select Committee, so they have been following Brexit closely for some time.
The first hour of the virtual meeting covered the rights of EU citizens in the UK. The second hour was the turn of UK citizens in the EU.
On the panel representing the rights of British citizens in the EU, I was joined by Jane Golding of British in Europe and Dr. Michaela Benson of Brexit Brits Abroad.
The questions covered a wide range of topics affecting the lives of UK nationals across the EU. Those topics ranged from how well the provision of our rights is being implemented, to issues that citizens are facing post-Brexit. There were also discussions around mobility and the issue of professional qualifications.
They were particularly interested in where the systems are failing us, how Brits are being treated differently in different EU countries, and which groups are the most vulnerable. The committee will report back in July.
Prior to the committee meeting and following a recent survey by Bremain in Spain and the Brexit Impact on Brits Abroad (BIBA) working group, I submitted a 27-page report to the committee. The report covered a variety of topics that the committee had expressed an interest in prior to the meeting, namely: health, residency, employment and families.
We added a topic of our own – Government – as this was the subject that came up the most often in our 600+ testimonies.
For each section, we provided some background on the issues affecting British citizens in Spain, a number of personal testimonies (with the authors’ express permissions), then added our own conclusions and recommendations.
We pointed out to the committee that Bremain are not lawyers or academics, but that what we hoped to bring to the table were some real voices of real people with real issues.
Here are a few of our member’s testimonies:
On the subject of health, the issues ranged from worries about future healthcare provision, to mental health issues and concerns about future care provisions.
Pensioner G.S. (name withheld as requested) said, “Unbelievable angst, not to mention sheer anger about all the completely unnecessary problems just beginning to surface. My partner and I both have extremely elderly (90) mothers in the UK who need our help and may die at any time. The worries are endless, and the Brexit problems were never necessary”.
Health was an issue affecting ‘swallows’ too, prevented by third-country rules from staying in Spain all winter. Martin Huxley told us, “the 90-day rule has caused a lot of mental stress and anxiety. I have always suffered with depression in the bleak winter weather in the UK, so have been happier and healthier spending the winter in the south of Spain.”
On residency issues, many were concerned over delays in processing residency applications, and the knock-on effect that was having on applications for driving licences and the registration of S1 healthcare provisions.
Pensioner Patricia Rowe said, “Health service access is not possible – I have been trying to register but have been waiting for months.”
Eunice Bowles said there had been “a lot of stress with increased paperwork for myself and my husband who needs a lot of care because of dementia and having to apply for new S1 health cover”.
On employment, an anonymous contributor spoke of becoming a second-class citizen in the EU job market.
They told us, “Brexit has made it far more difficult for me to find a next role, following redundancy in 2018, as most of the available roles I am qualified for are in other EU countries.” Jim Westlake spoke of issues facing those with UK qualifications that are no longer recognised. He said, “Possibly all my professional qualifications are no longer recognised, I chose not to have them validated, as I am retired, but that could return to haunt me. I am also studying to be a professional photographer through a British institution and the degree will not be recognised in Europe.”
Unsurprisingly, the subject of families was one of great concern amongst our survey contributors. M.W. (name withheld) raised the issue of returning to the UK in the future with a Spanish family.
She said, “My husband and kids are Spanish, we cannot choose to move back to the UK if we wish, unless I earn enough. My kids will not be able to choose UK universities or easily move to work there upon completion of their studies.”
Maria MacFarlane spoke of issues relating to family reunification rights, saying, “My adult disabled children have struggled to get TIEs. They don’t have the income requirements, and neither can we cover them. I’m worried that my kids will be deported”.
Can we trust the UK government?
In the final section of our report, we covered the topic of the UK government, and how so many Brits, in Spain at least, have lost confidence and trust in them.
With the kind of anti-EU rhetoric, and the posturing and sometimes aggressive behaviour shown in UK/EU negotiations, it’s no wonder that many are worried. Even those important rights protected by the Withdrawal Agreement are not taken completely on faith, especially when we hear government threats to undermine the deal they told us was so wonderful, yet they seem to want to renegotiate.
An anonymous contributor summed it up thus, “Our biggest concern at the moment is whether we can trust the Withdrawal Agreement for pension increases and health care as it seems that this government reneged on everything. Without this we can’t continue our retirement in peace.”
Of course, not all Brits have post-Brexit issues.
Some are even in favour of Brexit and see no downside. But whether you were for or against, there are many that are suffering, and who need help and support.
There are many vulnerable and isolated people at risk of becoming illegal immigrants without the desire, or the wherewithal, to return to the UK.
They received a great deal of empathy from the Committee.
They deserve the same from us.
Sue Wilson is the Chair of Bremain in Spain, a group that campaigns to protect the rights of British migrants living in Spain & across Europe.
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