In my first ‘Chatter’ column, dated August 2016, I explored the issues surrounding Brexit, after the British public voted to leave the European Union. I discussed the implications for Expats like me, living abroad, as my country of birth began the process of withdrawal. My view today, is no different to it was then. Although we don’t have the final plan in place, we are beginning to discover just how much our lives will change, once we leave. The 2016 referendum was the beginning of a process, that will see the United Kingdom once again forge, its own destiny in the World. Nothing much has changed so far, as the politicians and negotiators continue their divorce talks, each side trying to shape a future without one another. There has been a lot of talk, much misinformation and very little tangible data to analyse and assess. As a bystander to this process, I remain hopeful, despite the squabbling and one-upmanship playing out in the media. So where are we today? How far have we come and is there any light at the end of the European tunnel?
Watching the news from home recently, top of the schedule, was an item about British Passports; a so called ‘radical idea,’ that when we leave the EU in 2019, the British passport will return to its traditional blue colour. To be perfectly honest, I was a little incensed, that this side show issue was dominating the bulletin I was watching. I really don’t care what colour my passport is; it is irrelevant to me. With all the controversy surrounding Brexit at the moment, this was a departure from the real issues at hand. This news item just fed voters nationalistic instincts, after Theresa May gave far more ground than Brexiteers wanted; reaching the end of the first stage of negotiations, to withdraw from the EU. In any case the British Passport was never blue; the one I have in my drawer at home is well and truly black!
Talking with Expats like me, holiday makers and those thinking about moving to this part of Spain has become a regular occurrence; everyone concerned about their future rights living in Europe. The reality is, we still have very few concrete answers to our growing list of concerns. It does seem likely however, most of us will be able to remain in our country of choice, without too much hindrance. This will of course depend on our legal status; whether or not we are resident.
In October 2017, the Foreign Minister of Spain Alfonso Dastis said,
“Over 17 million Brits come to Spain every year and many of them live here or retire here and we want to keep it that way, as much as possible.”
A welcome statement from the Spanish Government; calming the fears of many. Even if Britain left the EU, without any formal agreement, Spain would guarantee the rights of those of us living here and “not disrupt” our daily lives. This was the biggest hint yet, that very little would change on the surface. Spain has the largest contingent of British Expats, living abroad. A third of those living here are aged 65 or over, so naturally Health Care is of major concern to British pensioners, living in Spain; currently enjoying free access to the Spanish health service. It wasn’t until December, when there was a breakthrough on citizens rights, during the end of the first stage of withdrawal talks; finally we had definitive answers, to our concerns.
“…Rules for healthcare… will follow Regulation (EC) No 883/2004. Persons whose competent state is the UK and are in the EU27 on the specified date (and vice versa) … continue to be eligible for healthcare reimbursement, as long as that stay, residence or treatment continues.”
Importantly the ‘S1 Form System,’ will carry on post Brexit, guaranteeing free treatment for British pensioners; a necessity for all those anxious about the future costs of living in Europe. For Expats currently living in Spain, indeed any EU nation, who have obtained permanent residency, the future seems assured. British citizens should enjoy the same rights as other EU citizens; including access to health and social services, providing they follow the process, adopted in their European home. If you have a residence but are not a permanent resident and wish to apply, you need to start thinking about it now, before Britain’s date of departure from the EU; currently 29 March 2019. As we move closer to this date, it is likely many more applications for permanent residency will be made; time remains crucial, all of us need to make a choice about where we want our future to lie. Equally if you are a UK citizen, currently considering a move to Spain long term, you should contemplate accelerating your plans, so you do not miss the deadline in March 2019. With just over a year left all of us should stay one step ahead; don’t get caught out!
With Expat rights confirmed, it is important to mention other details of the divorce bill, including most importantly the financial implications of our break from Europe. Theresa May initially offered to pay a twenty billion euro settlement figure; at the end of negotiations, it seems likely that will rise to approximately fifty billion euro; a marked increase. The Northern Irish frontier, which had become a stumbling block, has also been resolved. The Prime minister has made it clear there will be no ‘hard border,’ between Northern and Southern Ireland, allowing the continued free movement of goods and people between the two countries. Lastly the Government has agreed to allow the European Courts of Justice an oversight role in relation to ‘citizen rights.’ In cases which are ambiguous, jurisdiction will remain in place until 2027.
A lot has happened in the Brexit negotiations, since I last wrote about the implications for us a year and a half ago. Our lives will carry on in very much the same vein as they do now, however it is important to tie up loose ends and make sure we follow the legal framework in place to currently allow us to live and work in Spain. When I first moved to the Costa Blanca in January 2016, before the public voted, before the fighting started and before our destiny was sealed, I was determined to get my residencia as soon as I could, obtaining it on my Birthday in May 2016. My partner who is a non EU national, has also just received his Spanish residential status; a more complicated procedure than the one I had to follow, but necessary for us to enjoy an unhindered life, living in Gran Alacant.
Most of us can breath a sigh of relief, as negotiations move on to the next stage, with talks centred around a trade deal with the EU. There will be other hurdles to jump, in the future, applications to fill in, or new cards to be issued, but as long as we remain legally entitled to stay here in our current guise, there shouldn’t be any long term problems. I made the choice to move to Spain, as have many of you; many more of you, reading this brief article, will also be considering making the move. Your dreams and aspirations should not change because of Brexit. Clearly there wont be mass deportations of British Expats, living on the Costa Blanca and we can finally sleep a little sounder at night, knowing that our future is secure, stable and a little less uncertain!