March for Europe – London

March for Europe – London

Thousands of British ex-pats gathered to join others in London, in aid of the ‘Unite for Europe’ march, which took place on 25th March.  All joined in solidarity and against the decision for Brexit, which could see many British people, living in Europe suffering once article 50 is invoked.  If negotiations are not made in their favour, many ex-pats feel that their initial rights under a EU government may be taken away, leaving them isolated, with a possibility of having to return to the UK.  Members of Bremain in Spain were there to give their support.

See more articles in the Costa del Sol newspaper below…

Laying claim to ‘the Rock’ – Tim Parfitt

Laying claim to ‘the Rock’ – Tim Parfitt

It’s interesting how it has taken Gibraltar to shake things up a little bit. Since last night it’s been one of the top stories on BBC and Sky News, with the inevitable “rock in a hard place” headlines (ho-ho-ho). It is on the front page of most of today’s papers, here in Spain and in the UK: ‘Fear on the Rock: EU’s Gibraltar ambush’; ‘Future of Gibraltar now at stake in Brexit talks’; ‘Brussels takes tough stance on Brexit with Spain handed veto over Gibraltar’; ‘Rock bottom: May’s Brexit blunder sparks Spanish land grab’. The worst gloat, however, comes from Spain’s ABC newspaper: ‘The triumph of Spain’s position on Gibraltar irritates the United Kingdom’. Oh, and of course there’s Boris-the-buffoon already bellowing about his ‘implacable and ‘rock-like’ support for Gibraltar. That must really placate Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, the Hon Fabian Picardo QC MP, who’s been on every radio and TV news programme for the past 24 hours, proudly sitting in front of a photo of Her Majesty in his Union Jack adorned office. Boris will save and protect you, Mr.Picardo. Good old Boris.

Now, look, I know that Gibraltar is officially a ‘British Overseas Territory, ceded to Great Britain ‘in perpetuity’ under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 – and so, I mean, it really is British (and the 30,000 Gibraltarians have repeatedly voted to remain linked to Britain). But what about the San Miguel Bowls Club on the Orihuela coast in Alicante, adjacent to ‘Cheers Bar’ in the Urbanization of Eagles Nest? Only a couple of weeks ago The Guardian filmed there because it was ‘effectively a little Britain’ … ‘effectively a British enclave’ … and they were all suffering the ‘Costa Brexit’. What will happen to that British bowls club? Will Spain want to reclaim that, too?

Before I get loads of Brexiteer comments telling me that Gibraltar is not the San Miguel Bowls Club … er, I know. I’m trying to be a little ironic. But the fact that Prime Minister May forgot to mention Gibraltar in her Article 50 letter, described by many as an ‘astounding error’, is simply par for the course from now on, if you ask me. The whole Brexit ‘thing’ is a chaotic shambles and it’s going to get worse and worse. There is no plan. I repeat: There Is No Plan. There’s no plan for the rights of the 300,000 registered Brits living and working in Spain, nor for the rights of the 200,000 Spanish in the UK. The ‘rock bottom’ and ‘rock in a hard place’ Gibraltar Rock is just the tip of the iceberg.

Sitting here in Barcelona, however, I have one thing very, very clear. Spain, and in particular Mr.Rajoy, should focus on trying some ‘dialogue’ with Catalonia instead of laying claim to Gibraltar.

Read this and other articles from Tim Parfitt – Letters from Barcelona

Bremain in Spain Spreads its Message in the Media

Bremain in Spain Spreads its Message in the Media

Bremain in Spain is gaining ground in the media, with recent coverage from radio channels, TV stations and print publications mushrooming throughout the UK, Europe and worldwide. The message advocated by Bremain in Spain – that the rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK must be protected, instead of using them as bargaining chips – is increasingly reaching a receptive audience.

The level of coverage increased phenomenally after four Bremain in Spain members appeared in The Guardian and then group Chair, Sue Wilson, appeared in front of the Select Committee for Exiting the European Union on 18 January, to discuss the rights of UK citizens living in Spain – and especially pensioners who are reliant on reciprocal healthcare agreements. The Select Committee session was shown as live footage on BBC Parliament TV, where it was viewed by many journalists and editors.

Sue was then interviewed by Spain’s ‘Cadena Ser Radio’s show Hoy por Hoy’, ‘BBC Radio 4’, ‘LBC’ and ‘Talk Radio Europe’: the latter aired 20 minutes of Sue discussing citizen’s rights, pensions, healthcare and other key concerns.

Press coverage in Spain has appeared in ‘The Local.es’, ‘Sur’, ‘Majorca Daily’, ‘The Olive Press’ and ‘Costa News’. Bremain has also appeared in the ‘Irish Times’ and ‘France 24’, which ran a satirical picture by artist-activist and Bremain member, Madelina Kay, depicting her version of UKIP’s infamous “Breaking Point” poster.

Other news stories have appeared in ‘The Asian Age’, ‘World Breaking News’ and ‘Gulf News’, as well as information portals including ‘iExpats’, ‘Expats Forum’ and ‘Health Insurance Daily’.  A blog entry from Argentinian investigative journalist, Rodolfo Walsh, quoted Sue Wilson.

Meanwhile, some Bremain members have been filmed for documentaries. China Global Television Network (CGTN) recently filmed Sue Wilson and Karen Watling in the Valencian Community region, while approaches have been made from ITV and Associated Press to interview members.

At the time of writing, many other articles and news stories are in the pipeline. Bremain in Spain has also seen requests for membership of its Facebook group page increase exponentially since January 2017. Further success stories will be coming soon.

Brexit Concerns Raised by Bremain in Spain Members

Brexit Concerns Raised by Bremain in Spain Members

Bremain in Spain members were recently asked to state their individual concerns about Brexit, for a document to support Sue Wilson’s appearance at the Select Committee for Exiting the European Union, Westminster, on January 18. The list of comments appears on the Bremain in Spain website.

By a large margin, the most frequently voiced concern was “healthcare”. A widespread fear exists that hundreds of thousands of UK citizens currently living in the EU could be forced to return to the UK if their reciprocal, free healthcare arrangements are withdrawn. This especially applies to pensioners with existing medical conditions who will find it difficult and expensive to contract private health insurance, if they prove eligible at all. Sue Wilson points out: “UK citizens in Spain feel that they paid into the system for years so it is not really ‘free’ healthcare – they are taking what they paid for beforehand.”

One elderly member of Bremain in Spain commented:

Elderly

“As an OAP with ongoing medical conditions and awaiting two operations, if we lose free healthcare I’ll just have to die.” Says another member: “The bitter truth is my husband would die if we lose our access to the state health system and subsidised prescriptions.” Adds another: “As my husband is over 70 and has diabetes, he cannot get private health insurance.”

 

This might sound drastic but compare the potential situation to the USA, where thousands of people die annually because they cannot afford medical insurance*.

Other poignant comments include: “My mother has Parkinson’s and lives with me in Spain as a non-resident. My biggest concern is that she will have to go back to the UK and live in a care home.”

“We are pensioners living in Spain to support a sick daughter and bring up two grandchildren. If we lose our right to healthcare, we don’t know what will become of us all.”

Numerous members fear they will be forced to return to the UK: however, some say they can neither afford the cost of relocation nor housing in the UK. Says one such member:

“I have arthritis but have been much better since moving to Spain nine years ago. Without healthcare, I will have to return to the UK where I will not be able to afford a house. What will happen to me?”

Following healthcare, pensions are the key concern for Bremain in Spain members. An important issue is whether the triple-lock arrangement will continue to apply. Triple-lock pensions are guaranteed to increase every year in line with wage increases, inflation or a minimum of 2.5% – whatever is the greatest. It applies to UK citizens in the EU and America but not to UK migrants to other countries. For those who emigrated to the EU, their pension increased annually but this has not applied to UK migrants to other countries: i.e. a person emigrating to Australia would find their pension frozen.

UK pensioners now living in Spain paid into the UK system and clearly expected to enjoy their retirement years in peace and stability. One member explains: “My husband and I both worked full time for over 45 years and paid full tax and NI contributions in UK, ran a business, employed staff and paid all required contributions. Why should UK pensioners abroad be penalised and discriminated against after making these contributions to our country?”

One member reflected: “If pensioners have to return to the UK, will the UK pay for relocation and will accommodation and all benefits be available immediately?”

Another said:

“What happens when the overstretched National Health Service and local councils receive a sudden influx of retired expats returning to the UK that require health care and housing. It is already breaking this winter. Not from immigrants but from our ageing population.”

Following fears about being forced back to the UK, the atmosphere of uncertainty – especially concerning freedom of movement, pension entitlements and loss of rights as a EU citizen – ranked highly amongst members’ concerns. Comments included: “Our future plans are now uncertain and under threat through no cause of our own”, “our saved-for and planned-for retirement is in tatters” and “our lives have been put on hold without us having any say in it”.

Some newcomers to Spain said: “My husband and I moved to Catalonia in December 2016 to live our dream of 40 years. We are 70 and 75 and we are now terrified of what our dream is going to turn into.”

Another said: “I am aged 93 and have lived in Spain for the past 15 years. At my time of life, who has the right to say I may lose my right to remain here, my annual pension increments and my access to UK-funded free healthcare.”

This view was widely reflected: several members spoke of their long history in Spain and that, after all that time living in a EU country, EU citizen’s rights stand to be removed. Said one: “I took advantage of the freedom of movement that was offered to me as an EU citizen and I do not want this right to be taken from me after living in Spain for almost 34 years.”

Said another: “We are being disenfranchised without the right to vote on something that will impinge on my rights as a European living in Spain for 30 years.”

Many members worry that their human rights are being infringed, as well as their rights as EU citizens existing under threat. A typical comment was: “It’s my life and home, and to change rules retrospectively seems grossly unfair and against human rights.”

One member pointed out the emotional and physical investment that UK citizens have made toward their futures in Spain. “EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU made life-changing decisions, have homes and children in their new countries, have switched to using new languages, and consider ourselves as residents of our new home countries.”

Financial strain – and anxiety about the GBP EUR exchange rate – was mentioned by some members, who have seen their disposable income decline by approximately 20% through Sterling weakness caused by Brexit. Worries included “…frozen pensions, property rights, tax rights…”, “the fall in the Pound and threat to the value of my pension.”

Says one member: “We are living our dream retirement in Spain. Brexit threatens our financial security.”

Some Bremain in Spain members are concerned that lack of free movement could impact their livelihood and make it difficult or impossible to continue with established businesses.

One lady explains: “My partner teaches in an international school. This is almost totally dependent on being able to recruit staff from the UK and may be unable to do so should there no longer be the same rights in terms of residing, working, pensions and healthcare that currently exist. Therefore, the future of the school and, hence, his livelihood are at grave risk.”

 

Another points out:

“We have a business here and the uncertainty and stress is making me ill.”

 

Says another of finding a work contract: “Companies in Spain are starting to reject applications from British Nationals as they don’t want to get involved in work permits! How does that help me, should I need to get a new job?”

Divided families are also a concern for Bremain in Spain members. Says one: “We have close family in France and in the UK. We are the guardians of a nine-year-old grandchild who has lived almost her whole life in Spain with us. Loss of free movement and its implications for her, in particular, are very worrying.”

Another says: “My children were brought up in Spain, hold British passports and now live in the UK. I have a business and home in Spain and am worried about free movement and ‘residencia’ rights after Brexit. What will it mean for my family?”

 

This concern is echoed again here: “My grandchildren are Spanish – must I and my son leave them behind?” and “My husband is a Spanish national and we have lived together in Spain for 10 years. Before that, we lived for 20 years in the UK. Will it be possible for us ever to return to the UK to be with family?”

A member who has lived and worked in Barcelona as a researcher for 12 years, mainly on European Commission gender equality projects, pointed out: “I am British, my father was Finnish, my mother’s family were Jewish immigrants from Poland, my partner is Scottish, my children were born in Spain. To stay we will have to apply for Spanish citizenship and if we have to renounce our British citizenship, my children’s choice of living in the UK will be curtailed. What will happen if I have to go back to the UK to look after sick or elderly relatives?”

Some members are concerned about the impact of Brexit on young people, who stand to lose the freedom to seek opportunities within EU countries. Says one: “I was denied the right to vote in a Referendum which would strip me and my children of those rights. What is the direction for them? They have not been mentioned in this Brexit debate but their whole future relies on that decision. They are not British by upbringing nor Spanish by birth. They are teenagers who have been here all their lives who are now facing restrictions because of Brexit.”

With the legacy of Brexit affecting British citizens of every age group, but with particular concerns for pensioners who might find their options limited (live with compromised healthcare or return to the UK?), it remains to be seen whether “immigrants” to Britain will include disenfranchised “expats” returning in vast numbers.

Said one lady: “Imagine if you divorced because of mutual incompatibility 40 years ago and a crowd of people you don´t even know wanted to force you to go back to your ex-husband or wife: that´s how I’d feel if you try to force me back to Britain.”

Another Bremain member sadly reflected:

“Our sentence for Brexit is a life sentence.”

 

Do not let Brexit be a life sentence! Join Bremain in Spain, join our Facebook Group and write to your MP or Lords to help campaign against Brexit and for the rights of British Citizens in the EU.

*According to ‘ObamaCare Facts’, the death toll from not having health insurance is 20-45,000 people a year

Bremain’s Sue Wilson appears at Select Committee for Exiting the European Union

Bremain’s Sue Wilson appears at Select Committee for Exiting the European Union

Bremain in Spain’s very own Sue Wilson appeared on Tuesday 18 January in an evidence session of the cross-party Select Committee for Exiting the European Union, which took place at Portcullis House, Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London. The session examined the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in EU countries.
The panel comprised Nicholas Hatton and Anne-Laure Donskoy of ‘the 3million’, representatives of the East European Resource Centre, Debbie Williams of ‘Brexpats – Hear our Voice’, Christopher Chantrey of the ‘British Community Committee of France’ and Gareth Horsfall, representing UK nationals in Italy. Sue was invited to represent the interests of UK citizens in Spain and, in particular, pensioners.

In a 1.5-hour session – giving 45 minutes for the representatives of EU citizens, followed by 45 minutes for the four-strong panel representing UK citizens in EU – the attendees fielded a variety of questions from the Select Committee. Specific questions were directed at Sue Wilson by Joanna Cherry (SNP) Hilary Benn (Chairman – Labour), Peter Lilley (Tory), Jeremy Lefroy (Tory) and Maria Caulfield (Tory).

Sue spoke of the need to guarantee expats’ pension rights, which could be done by Theresa May ahead of any Brexit negotiations. She also voiced concerns about the right of UK citizens to remain in Spain, the continuation of free healthcare under EU social security arrangements and whether the triple-lock pension arrangement would continue.

 

Sue raised the difficulties faced by UK citizens applying for Spanish citizenship. Spain currently does not allow dual nationality for UK citizens, meaning that applicants from the UK have to forego their UK citizenship entirely. Sue explained that many people do not wish to divest their UK citizenship because it could have implications for their pensions. Furthermore, those wishing to return to Britain to reside with family in their final years could consequently face the same immigration issues as non-UK citizens. Sue stated that 300,000 UK citizens are registered officially in Spain but that at least twice that number is estimated to reside there. She added that UK citizens who own property in Spain, but do not have permanent residency, could also be affected by Brexit.

Sue urged the government to guarantee EU citizens’ rights in the UK, which would ideally lead to a reciprocal arrangement from the EU 27 countries. She said: “Some 108,000 UK pensioners are living in Spain. People are suffering now – with the exchange rate, concerns about healthcare and fears about their future. Many originally moved to Spain because it was cheaper to buy property there. Will they be able to stay, can they afford to stay, or will they be forced back to England? These people cannot wait 2.5 years for a resolution. Theresa May should act unilaterally now and encourage other countries to reciprocate.”

Sue also pointed out that private healthcare is expensive in Spain, especially if the applicant is elderly and has pre-existing conditions. She said: “Whether or not healthcare is funded would be a deciding factor as to whether people return to UK.”

She added: “Many people have moved to Spain for health benefits, as the climate aids conditions such as rheumatism. The return of these people would strain UK health and social care and possibly impact their life expectancy.”

A fellow panellist pointed out that the equivalent of the population of Birmingham may be faced with returning to the UK. What impact would this have on the UK if all these people must be repatriated? How many could return homeless?

Other topics from the panel included the right of UK citizens to establish businesses in EU countries, the right to continue their businesses in the face of Brexit and the right to do this without having to apply for new qualifications/exams in foreign languages.

Sue Wilson concluded by saying that the Brits based in Spain are as British as any citizens and should, as such, be looked after by the British government.

The Select Committee will presumably debate the issues raised at the session and present their findings to the Department for Exiting the European Union, with recommendations. It is hoped that this will be the start of an ongoing discussion between all parties, and that, in future, Sue and the other panel members will be given further opportunity to present evidence.

 

The full session ‘British Citizens residing in other European Countries’ can be viewed below, courtesy of Parliamentlive.tv – You can enlarge by selecting the ‘Full Screen’ button

 

Update

Now published – Parliamentary report by the Select Committee report following Sue Wilson’s appearance, alongside other representatives, defining the government’s negotiating objectives for rights of UK and EU citizens.

Read the report HERE
You can also read the subsequent press coverage in the Guardian

The3Million joint letter to Downing Street to support EU citizens in the UK

The3Million joint letter to Downing Street to support EU citizens in the UK

Bremain in Spain has recently joined forces with ‘The3million’ group, which is urging Theresa May to assure EU citizens who settled in the UK before the Referendum that they will have the right to remain permanently.

The campaign from The3million, called “I am not a bargaining chip”, is the brainchild of Nicolas Hatton and Roger Casale of ‘The New European’. Bremain in Spain is one of the 10 organisations that are collaborating to represent non-British nationals in the UK.

 

Other members of The3million include Britain for Europe and ECREU in France. Countries represented by the member groups including Spain, Gibraltar, Germany, France, Finland and Belgium.

A letter to Theresa May, signed by the 11 groups member groups, asks May to “the take the first step and unilaterally guarantee the right of EU citizens currently living lawfully in the UK to remain in the UK after Brexit”. It continues: “We are not bargaining chips, we are people.” The letter was handed to Downing Street in December, 2016.

The3million is campaigning for negotiations on the rights of non-UK nationals in Britain to be settled before Article 50 is triggered, to avoid potentially lengthy delays caused by the need for 28 countries to agree terms.

The right to reside, continue to draw index-linked pensions and access to healthcare are key issues for the3million. May has previously stated that she will only provide guarantees to EU nationals in the UK when the rights of Brits living in EU countries are reciprocally assured.

Recent reports in the ‘Guardian’ suggest that EU nationals applying for British citizenship can meet various hurdles. Some are receiving rejection letters over minor glitches in their applications: these standard letters suggest that the applicant prepares to leave the country, causing anxiety and stress. The current 85-page application form was designed for non-EU nationals who did not have automatic rights to settle in the UK and has been criticised as unfit for purpose where EU citizens are concerned.