Watching the UK from Spain is like watching a slow-motion car crash

Watching the UK from Spain is like watching a slow-motion car crash

“Only time will tell if Spain’s approach will prevent any serious reintroduction of the virus. By contrast, it’s difficult to watch events in the UK without feeling like we’re seeing a slow-motion car crash,” writes Sue Wilson from Bremain in Spain.

British citizens living through lockdown in Spain have generally appreciated the Spanish government’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis. Watching developments back in the UK – especially in England – has been a cause of concern, as we fear for the safety of family and friends.

The British lockdown, in comparison to ours, was late, loose and poorly managed. The rules were confusing and frequently illogical, and only seemed to apply to the general public – not to family and friends of the prime minister. It came as no surprise that the lifting of these measures was equally chaotic. 

On the much-hyped Super Saturday, pubs and restaurants were finally able to open in England, except in Leicester, which remains in lockdown due to a Covid spike.

To persuade the public to spend, spend, spend, the government opened pubs at 6am on 4 July. While encouraging a return to normality, such as enjoying a pint at the local, the government was advising the public to “act responsibly”. At the same time, Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, was warning of the continued need to socially distance to avoid a second wave. 

Sunday’s media coverage – of London, in particular – showed that social distancing in newly opened pubs was being largely disregarded. Pubs may have tried to stick to government guidelines but were overwhelmed by crowds of drinkers. The police seemed unable, or unwilling, to enforce the rules, with a senior police chief saying it was “crystal clear” that drunk people were unable to socially distance. 

Covid 19

When bars and restaurants finally opened in Spain, the safety measures were clear. Tables were further apart, group sizes were limited, strict cleaning regimes put in place, hand sanitiser everywhere, and masks to be worn when moving around. If my local bars and restaurants are anything to go by, the rules are being strictly applied, and every effort is being made to ensure compliance and safety. 

You can read the full article in The Local. 

Our lives in Spain are changing, no matter how you view Brexit

Our lives in Spain are changing, no matter how you view Brexit

While Brexit divides still run deep the reality for those on both sides is that their lives in Spain are soon going to change as transition nears an end, writes Sue Wilson from Bremain in Spain.

On the last day of June, the deadline for the Brexit transition period extension passed, almost unnoticed.

The British government has always insisted it would not seek an extension, even though one was on the EU table. This position may have been justifiable before the coronavirus crisis, but not under current circumstances. 

The EU/UK negotiators have just a few months to agree a trade deal and cement a future relationship. Although the transition period expires at the end of 2020, an agreement will need to be reached by October to allow time for ratification. 

Should an agreement not be reached, the UK will be forced – perhaps willingly – to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. That would see tariffs on goods, customs inspections at borders, and additional costs and administration – none of which have been adequately prepared for in the UK.

For UK residents, that will probably mean a further significant economic downturn, food and medical shortages, job losses, and more. For those of us living in Spain, many of the EU citizenship rights we have enjoyed will finally cease, and we can expect the Pound/Euro exchange rate to decline further.

A no-trade-deal Brexit is not the same as the much-feared no-deal of 2019, when all our rights were at stake. We now have a deal that protects many of our rights, including ongoing healthcare and pension provisions.

Those are protected for our lifetimes by the Withdrawal Agreement – a legally-binding, international treaty. People who are not of retirement age on 1 January 2021 will qualify for their S1 pension/healthcare when they reach retirement, if they have the required UK National Insurance contributions.

Other citizens’ rights have not been agreed, and probably won’t be, even if the EU and UK reach a trade deal. The loss of our freedom of movement as EU citizens will have the greatest impact. This signifies more than our ability to travel freely, or to work/study anywhere in Europe – it’s also about where we live. 

You can read the article in full over at The Local.

If Brits visit Spain let’s hope they follow the guidelines

If Brits visit Spain let’s hope they follow the guidelines

The news that Brits can now visit Spain has been greeted with mixed emotions, writes Sue Wilson from Bremain in Spain group.

After 14 weeks of lockdown measures, including several extensions requested by Pedro Sanchez, the ‘state of alert’ in Spain is finally over.
The local, national and international world we inhabit has changed, along with our behaviour and attitudes.
With appropriate caution, Spain and its residents are opening for business again.
Despite considerable economic damage and future economic threats, the Spanish government is taking things slowly.
Demands from business and industry, especially the tourism sector, must be weighed against the serious health risks of a second Covid spike.
The “new normality” is a far cry from the old normality, but the air of caution is welcomed by many people. While various restrictions have been removed – especially concerning our mobility – many health and safety measures still apply, such as the wearing of face masks.

The New Normality

The end of mobility restrictions will see the biggest change to our lockdown habits, as visitors travel across regional and national borders for the first time in months.
The biggest grey area is travel arrangements between Britain and Spain. After the Spanish government announced that its borders would open to visitors from EU countries, people wondered if the UK – currently half-in and half-out of the EU – would be included.
An announcement from the Embassy in Madrid to British residents in Spain confirmed that this was the case.

To read the article in full, head over to The Local. 

When will Brits in Spain feel brave enough to risk a trip ‘back home’?

When will Brits in Spain feel brave enough to risk a trip ‘back home’?

After months of lockdown we are all keen to visit our loved ones ‘back home’. This week, Sue Wilson examines the dilemma facing those considering a trip back to the UK.
A few weeks ago, when the end of lockdown was a distant dream, I wrote about having mixed feelings. The excitement of seeing friends and family was tinged with nervousness about our safety and wellbeing.

With lockdown coming to an end soon, coronavirus deaths almost non-existent and infections at a low level, are we feeling braver now?

The introduction of quarantine measures in the UK last week has focused many of us on when we might risk a long-awaited visit. The prospect of having to self-isolate for two weeks on arrival has pretty much guaranteed that even the keenest of us will delay imminent plans.

The question is “when will it be safe”? Desperate as we are to see our parents, children, grandparents or grandchildren, would we be putting ourselves, or even worse, our family members at risk?

Apart from family visits, many people have been forced to cancel pre-booked holidays and are debating whether holidays are totally off the menu this year. Rather by necessity than choice, the option of foreign travel has largely lost its appeal. This year could turn out to be that of the staycation, or at least sticking much closer to home.

As we become acclimatised to life outdoors again, there are many adjustments to be made.  Most people are keeping a safe distance, wearing masks and foregoing physical contact outside of their own families.

However, it’s not all bad news. Living in a tourist village, I’m enjoying having the place to ourselves, free of the usual summer crowds and traffic – a pleasure normally reserved for the winter months.

I feel bad for local businesses struggling to survive – we locals must do what we can to safely support them. However, should the restaurant and café tables stay two metres apart on a permanent basis, that’s fine with me!

passport, bremain, british, rights, EU

In another week’s time, we will be enjoying the ‘new normality’ here in Spain – the closest thing we’ll have to our old normality for some time.

With constant changes to what’s allowed, as we’ve moved through the de-escalation phase system, it hasn’t always been easy to keep track. However, compared to the complicated UK measures, it’s been a doddle. The devolved nations aren’t even following the same ‘plan’ as the government.

To read the article in full, pop over to The Local.

“No significant areas of progress” in latest Brexit talks.

“No significant areas of progress” in latest Brexit talks.

The UK government remains firmly set against any extension to the transition period, regardless of the Covid crisis and Michel Barnier’s comments that “our door is open” to a one or two-year delay, writes Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain.
Before the EU/UK trade negotiations started last week, the political grandstanding had already begun. 

Throughout the trade negotiations, EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has told the UK some home truths. These include no membership benefits for non-members, no cherry-picking and no bending EU rules. Ahead of the latest talks, Barnier also reminded prime minister, Boris Johnson, of the commitments he made when signing the Withdrawal Agreement in 2019.

Specifically, Barnier told Johnson he must keep the promises of the Political Declaration (PD). The document, while not legally binding, clearly defined agreed goals for the future relationship between the UK and EU. Those commitments include maintaining a level playing field with the EU on standards, and an agreement about accessing British fishing waters.

Barnier stated: “We remember very clearly the text which we negotiated with Boris Johnson. And we just want to see that complied with, to the letter.” He went on to say: “If that does not happen, there will be no agreement.”

Before the talks had begun, the UK responded, without a hint of irony, that progress had not been made “because of the inflexible attitude shown by Mr Barnier”. A source close to lead negotiator, David Frost (below), said: “The EU needs to inject some political reality into its approach and appreciate that they cannot use their usual tactic of delay to drag the talks into the autumn. October is too late.”

UK negotiator David Frost

On Tuesday 2 June, the talks began using video conferencing links. While enabling discussion, social-distanced negotiations are no substitute for face-to-face meetings. There’s little opportunity to observe body language and no informal chats over a coffee or something stronger. It is frequently during these informal discussions that progress occurs.

To read the complete article, please head over to The Local. 

What will Brits in Spain need to get ‘settled status’?

What will Brits in Spain need to get ‘settled status’?

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain provides some reassurance for British people resident in Spain.
With the British government pushing its controversial Immigration Bill through parliament last week, the focus was on the rights of EU citizens. In particular, the ruling that requires immigrants to pay into the NHS, regardless of their existing tax contributions, seems especially unfair. The government’s dramatic U-turn to remove the fee for healthcare workers was welcome, but the issue of double taxation for other EU citizens remains.

On this side of the Channel, Brits in Europe are mourning the loss of their freedom of movement rights, which enabled us to make new lives for ourselves in EU countries. Those opportunities, that we took full advantage of, are sadly being taken away from future generations. Those of us already residing here must focus on protecting the lives we’ve built.

Regarding our status in Europe, Michael Gove recently wrote to Michel Barnier. In his letter, Gove criticised the EU for being too slow to implement systems to secure future residency rights for British citizens. Gove cited the UK’s ‘settled status’ scheme for EU citizens in the UK and expressed concerns that the EU would not meet its Withdrawal Agreement obligations in a timely fashion.

For those of us living in Spain, what will be required by the Spanish authorities in order for our status to be ‘settled’?

UK Ambassador Hugh Elliott and Sue Wilson

Here’s what we know so far. Spain’s existing identity card for foreigners, known as the ‘tarjeta de identidad de extranjero’ (TIE) will replace the current documentation for British residents.  

The TIE proves legal status and is issued to foreigners authorised to stay in Spain for longer than six months. Those Brits registering for the first time will be issued with a TIE; those holding existing residency documents will be able to swap these for the TIE.

To read the article in full head over to The Local.