The view from Spain: British migrants fear Brexit impact

From fears of a no deal and worries about the pound to concerns of moving back home, Britons in Spain address Brexit.

British expats in Spain
Molly Williams, 24, believes freedom of movement is a fundamental right [Courtesy: Molly Williams]

Costa del Sol – There are an estimated 1.3 million British expatriates living in the European Union. The greatest number live in Spain. Officially, 310,000 Britons live there, although this figure is believed to be a third of the actual number.

Al Jazeera spoke to British people living in Costa del Sol and in the Valencian Community about their home country’s impending divorce from the EU.

‘My biggest concern is losing freedom of movement’

Molly Williams, 24, volunteer

“My biggest concern around Brexit is losing freedom of movement, which is the right that my family and I have used throughout our lives, as I have lived, travelled, worked and studied across Europe.

“I think it is actually a fundamental right that should be accessible to everybody across the continent, not just EU citizens but also third-country nationals. If we want to be a truly inclusive society and continent, we need to give everyone access to that.”

‘I don’t trust the creaking NHS’

Alison Curtis, 72, retiree

Alison Curtis says she depends on the Spanish health system
Alison Curtis says she depends on the Spanish health system

“I was a teacher all my life until I ran a small care-home to look after my parents until they died, during which time I lost a lot of money. Then, after the home shut, I came out here for Christmas to see my daughter who has lived out here since she was 19 and thought why am I going back? And so, I stayed.

“I previously had surgery for uterine and ovarian cancers followed by extensive radiation therapy in the UK to remove a rare lymphoma. However, they gave me the highest dose of radiation before new, safer regulations came in and as a result I have had to cope with life-challenging internal damage ever since.

“I have had related symptoms for which I have needed the support of the excellent Spanish health system and last August I was hospitalised for 12 days for a barrage of tests. I don’t want to go back [to the UK]. I don’t trust the creaking NHS and it would not allow the 24-hour support of my family as is the system here.

“A no-deal Brexit could mean that I lose this essential healthcare provision that I get for free in Spain, it’s the third best in the world. Lack of money wouldn’t drive me home but a complete loss of access to healthcare could drive me home, albeit against my will.”

‘There is so much uncertainty’

Malcolm Perry, 48, tourism business owner

 Malcolm Perry owns a business and fears a no-deal Brexit
 Malcolm Perry owns a business and fears a no-deal Brexit

“Me and my partner came here to build a tourism business. We’re based in the Granada province up in the mountains. 

My partner works in communications for a UK company and can work from here but travels to the UK regularly. It’s now costing us an extra 400 to 500 euro ($460-$570) to live here per month and run our business thanks to the downturn in the value of the pound.

“The loss of freedom of movement is, however, probably our biggest concern though as my partner is freelance and if he couldn’t work from here and travel from Germany or Italy to work it will reduce his employment opportunities massively.

“If there is no deal, we’re going to be totally reliant on what the UK government is going to do for EU citizens there, as to how the Spanish treat us in turn. There is so much uncertainty.” 

‘My children are a real concern’

Jo Chipcase, 47, copywriter

Jo Chipcase worries moving back to England would disrupt her children's education 
Jo Chipcase worries moving back to England would disrupt her children’s education 

“My biggest concern is that no one really knows what is going to happen. We have lived under extreme uncertainty for over two years now, causing me sleepless nights and bouts of panic.

“Are my two children and I going to revert to being third-country nationals? Will my children be able to enjoy their birth-right, which was to have free movement in 27 countries across the EU? Will we even be entitled to stay here, as third-country nationals have different residency requirements regarding work and income?

“My children are a real concern. My main fear is being forced to move back to England and the life we have built here being destroyed. My children are used to the local Spanish school system, which is different to the English system, and they have various school friends here. My eldest would like to study at university here in Spain so for him, it would be a big upheaval. My youngest isn’t the keenest of students and I feel that suddenly moving him to an entirely different school system would be detrimental to his progress.”

‘Our members in Bremain in Spain are very worried about the prospect of no deal’

Sue Wilson, 65, chair of Bremain in Spain

Sue Wilson, 65, is worried a falling pound could impact people's income
Sue Wilson, 65, is worried a falling pound could impact people’s income

“I’m still convinced that a no-deal Brexit won’t happen – surely both sides including [Prime Minister] Theresa May and her government know that it would be a terrible idea. 

At the moment, we are reliant on an extension to Article 50 so that a no deal can be avoided – it’s just not possible for all the legislation required to facilitate Brexit, to be passed before March 29.

“Our members in Bremain in Spain are very worried about the prospect of no deal as they read about it constantly and hear politicians talking about it all the time. That’s what they fear the most, more than a bad deal – at least with a bad deal, some of our rights would be protected by the withdrawal agreement.

“No one knows what is going to happen to the pound, who knows what it is going to buy in three or six months time. It’s a big misconception that retired people here are well-off, there are plenty who come here because they can live a cheaper, healthier life and pensions have already gone down by 15 to 20 percent since the referendum. 

“Potentially, if the worst came to the worst with a no deal, pensioners or those reliant on earnings from the UK could see their income reduce even further.”

Source: Al Jazeera