Leave-backing expats in Spain regret their decision as Brexit looms

Brexit-backing British nationals living in Spain told Channel 4 News they feel remorse for their decision as they face an uncertain future in the EU after Brexit.
Dave told Channel 4 News he would like to keep his freedom of movement rights. Picture: BBCDave told Channel 4 News he would like to keep his freedom of movement rights. Picture: BBC
Dave told Channel 4 News he would like to keep his freedom of movement rights. Picture: BBC

Spain is host to nearly 300,000 British nationals, the greatest number in any of the other 27 members states of the EU. Nearly 40 per cent of these are over 65, according to the Office for National Statistics. with many pensioners migrating to the southern coast of the country to enjoy their retirement.

Channel 4 News reporter Ciaran Jenkins spoke to a number of British expats living on the Costa Blanca near to Alicante and found many are concerned for their future ahead of Brexit on the 29 March.

Shot yourself in the foot?

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Dave bought his Spanish holiday home after voting to leave but told Mr Jenkins that he regretted his vote. He told the journalist the main factor in his change of heart was the loss of “freedom of movement in Europe, for the proper Europeans”.

When he was asked if he wanted to keep his own freedom of movement rights intact he replied. “Yes. I know it might be selfish but I think on reflection now we’d probably vote, if we had a referendum, the other way now.”

The journalist asked him if he had “shot himself in the foot?” He replied:”We might have done, we may very well have done.”

Bill and his wife Joyce, who also backed leave, said they spent four months of the year in Spain as “an extended holiday every year” but would not be coming if there was a no deal Brexit as they would not be able to bring their dog Beano.

“The dog would be the first priority,” they told the reporter.

Some of the other expats expressed doubt that Spain would close its doors to British nationals. One unnamed woman said: “I don’t think Spanish will turn English away because they’re quite a big thing for the economy.”

Health risks

Some expats said they were concerned that their access to the Spanish health system, protected under EU rules, would be curtailed in a no deal Brexit.

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Dave England lives in the Andalucian countryside and is severely ill. He said he depends on nearly 700 euros worth of medication every month and cannot afford to pay for private medical insurance as the British Government recommends.

He said: “I haven’t slept properly in two years. I wake up sweating. I wake up wondering what’s going on. I’m terrified.”

Up to the Spanish Government

A no-deal Brexit would mean existing EU rules around freedom of movement, one of the four pillars of the EU’s single market, would end overnight, casting many of the 1.5 million UK nationals living in EU member states into a legal grey area.

The UK ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley told Channel 4 News: “Essentially in a no deal scenario it’s for the Spanish Government to explain how they would intend to protect the rights of British nationals here in Spain in that scenario.”

In December Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez delivered a “message of calm” to the British in the UK saying he would guarantee their rights even in the events of a no deal Brexit.

Measures were, however, conditional on the roughly 100,000 Spaniards getting the same treatment in Britain, he said. He said he intends to present legislation later this month aimed at protecting citizens rights and protecting the commercial relationship between the two countries.

• This story originally appeared on our sister site the inews