Spain stands out among the British as a comfortable, safe country with social benefits more than acceptable. They enjoy here not only an optimal climate or affordable prices, but also an efficient health system and a wide variety of tourist options. A couple of hours by plane from their places of birth, this community finds the sunny paradise (come accompanied by the beach or the mountains) where you can enjoy your retirement or start a business.
A possibility that more than 250,000 people were already taking advantage of in 2019, according to the Labor Force Survey (EPA). Residents in the Iberian country from the British Isles they were concentrated in coastal places like Alicante, Malaga, Almería, Barcelona or in the Balearic and Canary Islands. Throughout 2020, all these neighbors and those who were about to join the census have suffered a small earthquake in their placid ways: Brexit has disturbed them.
The departure of Great Britain from the European Union has splashed people who chose Spain as their residence. Almost five years have passed since the referendum and the transitional period is over. The questions and agreements have come to an end: the British bloc leaves the common market, the last fringe to be covered. In December the withdrawal was settled, with Boris Johnson boasting that he had kept his promise and regained “national independence.”
“The United Kingdom has reestablished control over laws, borders, financial resources, trade and fishing,” said the prime minister before a pact that facilitates free trade without tariffs or quotas.
Everything is not clear yet. Bilaterally, between nations, the United Kingdom has to qualify certain pending clauses such as that of its citizens living abroad. The calls brexpats (by the conjunction in English of “expatriates” and “British”) fill the groups of social networks with questions. They are concerned about unforeseen events that may arise when they are in Spain or the rules for travel, aggravated by COVID-19.
“We were assured that we would maintain the residence rights as long as we had requested it before December 31. Now, those who have presented it but are still stuck in the process are treated separately and are denied the return trip,” lamented one of them recently.
From the UK consulate in Madrid they claim that they are aware of the doubts and acknowledge that “there is confusion” about the paperwork and conditions to stay in the country or just visit it. “We are actively working on these issues”, they grant on an issue that not only affects the permanently settled, but the 18 million tourists who have come to Spain annually for years, according to the National Institute of Statistics: one in five foreigners who set foot in the country is British.
This is the case of Warren Edwardes. Retired banker, he married in 1992 in Barcelona with his Spanish wife. He lives in London, but visits “regularly” Spain “to see family and friends.” “It has become much more bureaucratic,” he says. He describes himself as an importer of wines and tango DJs and has left the European Union “with deep disappointment and sadness“.” I voted in favor of staying and, in addition, I campaigned for membership, “he adds.
Warren Edwardes believes that, apart from labor issues, the break is palpable in the street. “Our mother tongue in London is Spanish, and speaking it after Brexit can provoke ‘speaking in English’ comments, he notes,” and couples will have to stand in separate queues at airports; the human rights of a lifetime have been harmed. relative of Spanish-British bilingual couples who both married as EU citizens “.
“Some British residents in Spain will return to the United Kingdom. But the majority will settle and seek Spanish nationality,” he concludes.
Barry Haylor is one of them. Neighbor of Lloret del Mar, in the north of Catalonia, he has been in the Iberian country for a decade and five years with the TIE (Foreigner Identification Card). “I am a resident and I do not think that Brexit affects me, except for the change from pound to euro,” he concedes. Haylor, 69, retired, takes the opportunity to upload videos on his YouTube channel about Spanish enclaves. In the one dedicated to the choice of the place, he praises gastronomy and prices.
“I think England will trade well with all countries. There could be problems with Gibraltar here, but I get the feeling that no one cares about Brexit,” he says, just after an agreement has been reached with this overseas territory. and military negotiations between the two states have begun.
Martine Mertens, in charge of the residents of other nationalities in Alfaz del Pi, does feel concern. The councilor of this Alicante town, who has been in office for five years, has noticed a general confusion in recent months. “We had a talk in August and the consul came to the City Council,” he anticipates, “but I think many have waited too long, until they were obliged, and now they are having problems with the paperwork. “
Belgian by birth, but with many years of stay in Spain, Mertens numbers around 3,000 people of British origin who reside in this part of the Mediterranean, a few kilometers from Benidorm, a mecca for English tourism. “We have 80% of retirees and 20% who work in the region,” she details. The councilor has been surprised these months not by the effect of Brexit but from the scourge of the coronavirus, even in a group that seems solvent: “We have seen requests for social assistance from British people,” he confesses from the consistory.
Samantha Walde corroborates it: “It’s that not all of us live with a pension.” This 35-year-old girl came to Lloret del Mar at 20 and was employed in all kinds of trades. Now he works from British Food Import, a store of British products. “This is dead. Here we live on tourism and it is empty”, emphasizes who already has two Spanish children and has been integrated “perfectly”, no complaints about the deal. “It was one more foreigner, but I have always been very comfortable,” underlines who regrets the decline in activity and Brexit is an added uncertainty to the pandemic.
“There is a lot of trouble on the issue of documents and imports. We have been here all January without receiving anything. And we don’t know what will happen. I suppose the price will rise, but it depends on the tariffs and the currency,” he argues.
In Sweet Home Lliria, a store in the interior of Valencia, they hold the same. Maggie, its owner for five years, does not have information about providers or deadlines. “They do not tell us if VAT will have to be paid here or there, if it will affect the arrival time or if it will alter the amount,” replies this Polish woman who has been in Spain for 21 years and whose survival has been the sale of international food: “The key, in my case, has been to mix. Because the British are very traditional and they wanted their sausages or bacon, but many were afraid and they left.”
Brexit has been joined by the virus. The health epidemic, with great impact in the first months of the year in Spain, expelled the residents. And it closed stores or stopped the holidays. It also paralyzed another of the businesses related to this community of foreigners: the buying and selling of flats. Real estate companies in areas with a high concentration of foreigners have noticed the collapse, although they cannot blame it on geopolitics.
“The fall was due to the virus. We, with different customer profiles, cannot know if the drop was of an exact nationality. We can say that the elderly Briton has stopped buying, waiting to see what It happens “, they comment from Spain Homes, with an office in Andalusia.
There is no clear data on whether Brexit is the culprit, explains Rinus van Vliet. Dutch based in Alicante since 1999, the agent and real estate consultant of Houses in Spain accuses COVID-19 of the disaster. “There are people nervous to see how the separation of Europe progresses, but more to see how the disease pulls. One thing is also clear: regardless of the virus or the agreement with the continent, the British want to live here, “he says.
Jordi Giner Monfort, professor of Sociology at the University of Alicante specialized in the United Kingdom, points out this preference. “The relationship dates back to the 19th century, but from 2000 it began to be more common”, he analyzes. “Now there are almost 300,000 inhabitants, although there are 250,000 registered and another 50,000 seasonal. A large part of the group, 45%, is over 55 years old. has a pension and can live well. Most are distributed on the Mediterranean coast, although there are young people who work and live in cities such as Madrid, Valencia or Barcelona “, he analyzes.
It responds to a population with a medium-high income level, Giner specifies, although there is “an important part” with low retirement pensions. “Until Brexit, the intention to return to the United Kingdom was more common. Now, more and more people do not want to return, who want to stay in Spain. Even with the indecision of what it represents. In 2021 it will not affect the basics yet, such as health coverage or transportation “, explains the sociologist.
“They are people used to traveling, who take advantage of the best of each country, such as the income of one and the climate of the other, and it will be more difficult for them to move,” he adds. “Is a insecurity situation that does not know how it will end. They have planned their last years in a stable way and they are thrown out of place, “says Giner, noting the unease of some of the brexpats whose comfort they have seen disrupted: “Suddenly, they doubt whether they will have to go or be eligible for benefits such as housing.”