Sue Wilson Writes: There’s a reason that more Brits live in Spain than any other European country and it’s not just the sunshine

Sue Wilson Writes: There’s a reason that more Brits live in Spain than any other European country and it’s not just the sunshine

When I first visited Spain, at the tender age of 18, it was love at first sight.

Admittedly, back then, I was more interested in the weather, nightlife and the size/price of a Bacardi and Coke. Over the years, as I matured, so did my tastes. I grew to appreciate everything this wonderful country has to offer: the tasty tapas, varied landscapes, amazing culture, healthy lifestyle and – most importantly – the warmth and generosity of the Spanish people.

Now, a resident of 12 years standing, I’m living the retirement I could only dream of during many decades of annual holidays in Spain. I live in a small seaside village in the Valencian community, which is transformed by tourists for 10 weeks of the year. Our sleepy little winter village becomes a bustling resort, attracting visitors from all over Europe. In August, you’re more likely to hear French spoken than Spanish, although many other nationalities have also discovered our slice of paradise.

The inflow of visitors has its downside – longer queues in the supermarket and bank, parking problems, more traffic and slower service in bars and restaurants. However, the pluses more than outweigh the minuses. The buzz is infectious, the diversity of languages and people is a pleasure, and it’s good to be reminded that our village only exists thanks to the Euros, Pounds, Krone, Roubles and Francs that are spent here.

With so many European nationalities surrounding us, we feel part of a growing family – one that shares our dreams, concerns and values. It also allows us to see the village, and the country, through the eyes of those who love to visit but cannot stay.

When I speak Spanish, it’s clear that I’m not from around these parts,so the next question tends to be “where are you from?” When I tell people I’m from the UK, it’s commonplace to be greeted with a look of pity and an incredulous “what on earth was the UK thinking of with Brexit”. What, indeed!

Many of the tourists are regular visitors who have fallen for the local charms, as we did. When I’m asked when I’m going “back home”, I love to say: “In the next few hours – this is home!” I admit to taking small delight from seeing a glimpse of envy.

As well as interacting with tourists, many of us entertain our friends and family in August. It’s a time to switch off, dine out rather too often, visit tourist attractions that we ignore for 11 months of the year, and to relax and unwind. A time to set aside our worries about the future and appreciate what we have.

Before the referendum, I was guilty of taking all the benefits and freedoms of being a European citizen for granted. I never thought about my freedom of movement or my right to free healthcare and didn’t really associate those benefits with the EU. I just enjoyed those freedoms, with the expectation that I would have them for life.

Nobody knows what our Brexit future will bring, but if the referendum has had one positive outcome, it’s this: it has shown us what’s at stake and what we stand to lose.

I’ve loved my life in Spain since the day I arrived. I love it more with each week, month and year that passes. There’s a reason that more Brits live in Spain than any other European country, and it’s not just the 320 days of sunshine (although that’s amazing too!).

It’s the welcome, the sense of family, the feeling of security, the neighbourliness. Spain is in my soul and I’m never going to leave. The same applies to Europe, so keep your hands off my EU citizenship. The UK isn’t leaving, and neither am I.

Sue’s article from The Local

Sue Wilson Writes: Brits relying on funds from the UK are feeling increasingly helpless

Sue Wilson Writes: Brits relying on funds from the UK are feeling increasingly helpless

Sue WilsonAlways a popular topic of conversation, discussions about money have been more prominent recently, for all the wrong reasons, writes Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has this week been visiting the four ‘corners’ of the United Kingdom, doling out promises to spend, spend, spend in a futile effort to win support. Judging by the reception he received in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, his offers of financial support for communities and industries, which are currently reliant on EU funding, are not being taken too seriously. The fact that parliament, or even his own government, would be unlikely to sanction such overspending may be a factor at play.

On Thursday August 1st, money was again on the agenda when the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, announced the government will spend £2.1 billion in preparation for a no-deal Brexit. Despite frequent claims from the prime minister and the government that no-deal is not their preferred course of action, they seem very keen to convince the country, and the European Parliament, that it is.

The Treasury announced that the money would be spent to “accelerate preparations at the Irish border, support business readiness and ensure the supply of critical medicines”. £138 million alone is to be spent boosting public communications, including a public information campaign, and increased “consular support and information for Brits living abroad”. I’m sure a leaflet will make us all feel better at the prospect of being significantly poorer!

As you might expect, the news of more spending – especially on a damaging no-deal scenario – met with widespread outrage. The CEO of Best for Britain, Naomi Smith, said: “Wasting money like this when we have so many other priorities is exactly why the country has turned against Brexit. We need to stop fixating on it so that we can fix the country.”

Labour MP, David Lammy said it was money: “…wasted on preparing for an entirely avoidable and self-inflicted disaster. Money that should have been spent on schools, hospitals and housing.”

The prospect of spending such obscene amounts of money, when the UK has suffered underspending on an industrial scale for years, has everyone wondering: where is the money coming from? The government openly admits it intends to borrow, borrow, borrow.

All this talk of excess borrowing and spending is particularly galling for British citizens who are suffering from the collapse of the Pound. Sterling is at its lowest level in over two years, with no-deal Brexit only at the discussion stage. How much further might it plummet if the worst-case scenario actually happened?

Brits relying on funds from the UK, especially pensioners and others on low incomes, are feeling understandably helpless. Many are considering how to cut back on their personal expenditure. None of us are in possession of a magic money tree – unlike Westminster, where there’s enough fertiliser for a whole orchard.

There was, however, an unexpected word of comfort from a Brexit Party MEP. Apparently, Sterling’s fall is all down to Remainers and the European Union, and nothing to do with government policy or the pursuit of a hard Brexit. It can easily be fixed if we all stop saying that no-deal will be a disaster and – as Johnson might say – just “believe”!

If Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ will be remembered as Theresa May’s theme tune, Boris Johnson’s theme must be ‘Money, Money, Money’. At least, for now. Give it a few weeks, until his government fails, and parliament removes the no-deal threat, and ‘Waterloo’ might be more fitting.  

Sue’s Article in The Local

 

Sue Wilson Writes: British citizens living in limbo over Brexit have finally had their patience rewarded

Sue Wilson Writes: British citizens living in limbo over Brexit have finally had their patience rewarded

Over recent weeks, many British citizens living in Spain, who are worried about Brexit, have been increasingly concerned about political events in the UK.

With the two Conservative leadership candidates, Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, hyping their no-deal Brexit rhetoric to the max, and the media over-playing a whole host of no-deal scenarios, it’s no surprise that many have been losing sleep.

However, the events of last week saw a significant change in our collective mood. The tide has finally turned.

It was a busy week in both Westminster and Brussels, with the appointment of the new President of the European Commission, Theresa May’s last speech as Prime Minister, and the last of the Tory leadership contest hustings.

The Office for Budget Responsibility released its latest, damning report, stating that the UK risks a ‘full-blown’ recession with a no-deal Brexit. Meanwhile, Chancellor Phillip Hammond admitted to being “terrified” by Brexiter claims concerning a no-deal Brexit boost to the economy.

Then there was a revealing expose screened by BBC Panorama, ‘Britain’s Brexit Crisis’, that suggested even the Beeb is experiencing a change of mood and tone, perhaps finally feeling it might have backed the wrong horse.

However, the most significant of last week’s events was Thursday’s vote by the House of Commons, to prevent the new British prime minister from proroguing parliament.

The day before, a House of Lords amendment to the Northern Ireland bill had passed by a significant majority. The amendment called for parliament to regularly report on its progress with regard to the forming of an executive in Stormont. A similar amendment had recently been defeated in the House of Commons, but the Lords were determined to prevent the new PM from shutting down parliament ahead of the October 31st Brexit deadline. If the Lords amendment proved successful, this would allow the House of Commons a second bite of the cherry.

The vote in the Commons was widely expected to be a close call, with speculation that some Conservative ministers might rebel against the government. When the result emerged, showing a significant defeat for Theresa May, despite a 3-line whip, the change in mood from Bremain members was palpable.

For many months, British citizens living in limbo over Brexit have been hoping for MPs – especially Conservatives – to stand up and be counted. On Thursday our patience was finally rewarded. Not only did 30 Conservative MPs defy the whip and abstain – including Chancellor Hammond and cabinet ministers, David Gauke, Greg Clarke and Rory Stewart – but 17 Conservatives voted in favour of Hilary Benn and Alastair Burt’s amendment.

Even the Brits amongst us who had resigned themselves to a hard Brexit have since expressed feelings of hope. The scale of the government’s defeat was seen as highly significant and a victory for common sense. Although many long ago abandoned the idea of parliament coming to our rescue, many Brits now believe a new way forward is possible.

Unsurprisingly, Brexiters were outraged by the result, accusing their colleagues of a betrayal of the British public and the referendum result. Without a hint of irony, they complained that MPs had voted to ensure the retention of parliamentary sovereignty – a key demand of their own Leave campaign!

While the success of the amendment doesn’t prevent a no-deal Brexit, it does make it more difficult. Yet again, it proves that there is no majority in parliament for a damaging no-deal Brexit.

For many Conservative rebels, this was the first time they had ever voted against their own government. One minister, Margot James, even resigned in order to do so. Further resignations are anticipated next week, if Boris Johnson becomes the new leader, as expected.

Having crossed the line, and voted against the wishes of the government, Conservative MPs will in future find it easier to oppose the extreme Brexit plans favoured by Johnson, the Brexiters and Conservative party members. As one first-time rebel MP said, they might even get a taste for it!

We have long hoped and prayed for MPs to put country before party. Many have a long way to go, but the tide has turned.

After the success of his amendment, Hilary Benn said that the House of Commons had sent a message to the new prime minister. He commented: “If you think you can lock the doors of the chamber and expect us all to go away until October 31st has come and gone, well it isn’t going to happen. The public would expect us to be here doing our job, and that is what we intend to do.”

Brits throughout Europe are grateful to those who stood up to be counted. We now hope that parliament really can “take back control”. That’s what we voted for, apparently!

Taken from The Local

 

Sue Wilson Writes: What the Spanish festival of San Juan and Brexit have in common for Brits in Spain

Sue Wilson Writes: What the Spanish festival of San Juan and Brexit have in common for Brits in Spain

To remain friends!

On Sunday 23 June, I joined my Spanish friends and neighbours on my local beach to celebrate one of my favourite Spanish festivals of the year – San Juan.

Originally a pagan festival, San Juan became a celebration of the birth of Saint John the Baptist, while harking back to its’ earlier roots of worshipping the sun – the provider of life.

I live on the Spanish Levante, where the event is celebrated with huge bonfires on the beaches. San Juan is a time of purification and renewal, and letting go of the past. Many people bring hand-written wishes to burn on the fire. Others use the bonfires to rid themselves of unwanted baggage, such as burning photos of an ex-partner.

A few brave souls jump over the bonfires – originally a way to cleanse oneself. Now, it’s merely a show of bravado and a bit of fun. Most people prefer to surround the bonfires, talking, eating, drinking and socialising. It’s an event that brings the whole village together, regardless of age.

The main entertainment of the evening was provided by stilt-walkers, giving the audience an elevated display of twirling fireworks and flames. For most of us, the highlight occurred at midnight. After fireworks had been lit and paper lanterns, representing our hopes and dreams, were launched, the crowd headed to the water’s edge. With trouser legs rolled up and footwear discarded, we walked into the ocean and jumped, as one, over 12 waves.

Over the years, I’ve heard different theories about the significance of jumping the waves and the required number of jumps. My favourite interpretation is that we have one jump for every month of the year, and I’ve now been cleansed of all my sins! I presume that includes my bad language.

Of course, for Brits living in Spain, 23 June is significant for another reason. It is the third anniversary of the Brexit referendum – an event that has dominated the lives of many people ever since that fateful day.

Some Brits who voted Leave have remained unconcerned about Brexit, believing – as they do – that little impact will be felt here. However, for those of us who want to remain in the EU, the fear and anxiety have been significant. Despite reassurances from all directions, nobody really knows what rights and benefits we might keep, as nobody knows what kind of Brexit will occur if, indeed, it occurs at all.

Any mention of a worst-case scenario, “no-deal” Brexit, adds to the stress and insecurity – especially when people are understandably concerned about any potential threat to their free healthcare and freedom of movement.

So, the San Juan fiesta brings mixed emotions – a reminder of a life-changing event that still haunts our daily lives, and a celebration of joy and hope, shared with the locals.

As I launched my paper lantern, I felt like a kid sending a Christmas wish to Santa Claus. I wasn’t wishing for the latest toy or gadget, but for a smidgeon of sanity in Westminster, and for the UK to have another say on its future.

My offering to the bonfire was a simple “Brexit” sign, as there’s nothing I would rather see crash and burn during the rest of 2019.

With our troubles going up in smoke and our wishes floating towards the heavens, we came away hopeful, grateful and feeling part of a local community of different nationalities.

That’s exactly how I feel about being an EU citizen. Long may I remain one!

Sue’s article is from The Local

 

Sue Wilson Writes: ‘An act of self-harm’: What my Spanish neighbours think of Brexit

Sue Wilson Writes: ‘An act of self-harm’: What my Spanish neighbours think of Brexit

When it does arise in conversation with Spanish friends, colleagues or neighbours, reactions range from incredulous to sad, bemused to offended.

Initially, my Spanish friends reacted to the 2016 referendum result with shock and disbelief. They couldn’t understand how millions of British citizens could vote to leave a union of neighbouring countries that they, personally, value so highly. They felt that we Brits had committed a hugely self-destructive act, and for no tangible reason. No argument from me!

At the time, many Brits living in Spain, me included, had scant knowledge about the EU and its role in our lives. Many of us simply took the rights and benefits afforded by EU membership for granted. We were happy to enjoy our daily existence in Spain, oblivious to the political goings-on in the UK – events in Westminster would have little effect on our lives in our adopted homeland, or so we thought. How wrong could we be?

When I first started campaigning to stay in the EU, an important element of that task was to communicate information and advice about Brexit as widely as possible. Initially, my communications were aimed at the British community in Spain. I confess that often proved a difficult task with those that voted to leave, despite them having made their homes in Europe.

The biggest hurdle was the fact that so many of them said, and still do, that “nothing will change”. Apparently, the Spanish “need us”, we “support the Spanish economy” and “we’ll get what we want because we’re British”.

The very fact that around a third of British citizens who have made their homes in Spain, actually voted to leave the EU is one fact that the Spanish still cannot fathom – “turkeys voting for Christmas” is an English idiom well-known to our Spanish friends now.

The need to communicate information to our Spanish friends and neighbours, as well as to our British ones, became increasingly apparent. The first task was to ensure the general public here that we hadn’t actually left the EU yet. The second was to convince them that Brexit was not inevitable – a task that became a whole lot easier once we didn’t leave the EU in March, or April, as planned.

When travelling, I repeatedly had to explain the Bremain in Spain strapline, “Brexit is Bonkers!”, to Spanish fellow-travellers who spotted my luggage stickers. Translating the “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers was rather more straightforward!

With my own Spanish friends, the most important point to communicate was that the result of the referendum did not reflect my personal views, or the views of the majority of the British population. They were and are genuinely interested in gaining a better understanding of what’s happening and what’s possible. Now they follow everything I am doing on the campaign front with great interest.

Any Brexit-related discussion with Spaniards inevitably leads to the treatment of Spanish citizens in the UK – a topic that fills me with shame. Thankfully, none of our Spanish friends’ families have personally experienced the racist abuse reported in the media. However, some have cancelled plans to spend time in the UK, or to move there, as they don’t feel assured of a warm welcome anymore. With that in mind, some have opted for Ireland or another EU country instead.

Despite the sadness and confusion surrounding Brexit, the Spanish people haven’t changed the way they treat British citizens. Our Spanish friends still call us their “English family” – much to the amusement of my Scottish husband! They welcome us into their lives and homes and are proud of people who aren’t taking Brexit lying down. They want us to stay in the EU, and in their homeland.

Since moving to Spain 12 years ago, it has felt like my “forever home”. Now I’m more convinced than ever that my future is here – but not simply because Brexit has turned my birthplace into a country I no longer recognise, or can take any pride in.

Spain is my home because of the Spanish people – their culture, their way of life, their passion, openness and kindness. The language is special too – “¡Cojones a Brexit!” does have a certain ring about it.

“Stop Brexit”, of course, requires no translation whatsoever.

Sue’s article taken from The Local

 

Sue Wilson Writes: New poll shows the people must get another say on Brexit

Sue Wilson Writes: New poll shows the people must get another say on Brexit

Sue speaking at the EUnite eventFor the last three years, politicians of all variations have been telling us what the British public wants, and what we voted for back in June 2016.

I’ve no idea how they can possibly know what we want, when they still can’t tell us how Brexit will look and are terrified of repeating the important question, in a second referendum.

In the case of remain voters, the UK government is probably correct in assuming that we did know what we wanted. We chose the status quo and voted to keep the benefits and rights we enjoy as EU citizens, even if we didn’t fully appreciate what we might lose.

It’s another matter when the government and pro-Brexit politicians claim to have had magic vision that enabled them to see into the minds of leave voters three years ago. All these voters elected to leave the EU, but the types of Brexit they envisaged were varied, from the softest Brexit (“you’ll barely notice the difference”), to the hardest WTO-terms Brexit. Did anyone even know what a soft or hard Brexit was at that stage? We were simply told it would be the easiest deal in history, and that Britain would enjoy a glorious future.

It is noticeable that many politicians, including Conservative party leadership candidates, have stopped repeating the well-worn mantras of 2016. Leave campaigners, such as Nigel Farage and MEP Daniel Hannan, stated back then that Brexit didn’t mean leaving the single market. Farage now sings a different song and is advocating the most damaging of Brexits – leaving with no deal at all.

Regardless of how leave voters pictured Brexit, they won’t all have the same vision now. Today, we know considerably more about what type of Brexit is possible and the implications for the British economy and citizens. Even with that knowledge, nothing is certain, with parliament failing to agree on the best way forward.

Amid the uncertainty, and the fear and anxiety experienced by Brits living in the EU, it’s important to consider how we feel now. We mustn’t make the same mistake as the British government and believe that one snapshot in time is the only moment worth considering.

On Friday 7th June, the results of an extensive new Brexit survey were published by YouGov. Many polls have aimed to establish if the British public has changed its mind, and whether the vote would go the same way in a second referendum.

The new survey sought to look deeper by examining respondents’ first, second and last choices and the strength of their opinions on each option. Previous assumptions, regardless of the type of Brexit, were that leave supporters wanted out of the EU more than remain supporters wanted to stay. According to this survey, the opposite is true.

Participants were given a choice between the Withdrawal Agreement (Theresa May’s negotiated deal), a softer Brexit, a no-deal Brexit, or staying in the EU. Each respondent listed the options in order of preference and weighted each one depending on whether they preferred it “a bit”, “a fair amount” or “a lot” more than other options. This weighting was an important factor in accurately gauging levels of support for the options, and to establish that a second-choice compromise would likely displease both sides equally.


CYouGov survery results. Chart by New Statesman

The analysis revealed that the majority of remainers would prefer staying in the EU significantly more than any other option and would, therefore, be unhappy with any other outcome. Leavers showed a strong first preference for exiting the EU, although with varied first choices. Many felt so negatively about any other Brexit option that 24% said they would prefer to remain than see their second choice implemented.

So, whichever Brexit course of action the government might choose, as well as making remain voters unhappy, it would upset many leave voters too.

It has been a while since we heard the over-used phrase, “the will of the people”, to justify a course of action that would please hardly anyone. The next resident of No. 10 would be well advised to listen to what the country is now saying or find their reign as Prime Minister the shortest in history.

If they are unsure what the country now wants, they really need to put the question back to the British people!

Sue’s article is from The Local