What British expats living in rural Spain think about Brexit over a year after the fateful EU Referendum

By Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead

Perched on a plateau 3,000 feet high on the north-eastern edge of southern Spain’s Granada province lies the old market town of Baza.  A population of around 20,600 reside in this rural inland municipality, a small portion of which is British.

Surrounded by a dusty, arid terrain, where rain is sparse and crops are difficult to grow, and being some 100 kilometres from the tourist trade of the coast, earning a living in Baza isn’t easy, regardless of nationality. 

Nevertheless, comparatively cheap property and an authentic Spanish lifestyle, amid a striking mountainous landscape, has long-attracted British expatriates to Baza and its vicinity. 

In recent decades, a steady trickle of Brits have emigrated to this region. Many have been and gone, while others have remained, determined not to give up their home in Spain. 

Though for many of the British expatriates living in this inland Spanish town, the result of the UK’s EU Referendum on June 23, 2016 has cast a dark cloud over their dream life in the sun. 

Uncertainty about what a future living in Europe without EU citizenship holds is causing worry and apprehension amongst this community of British expats. 

John Moody, 68, an artist, author and musician, has lived in Spain since 2004 and in the mountains close to Baza for ten years. John used a postal ballot to vote to remain in the EU in the Referendum. 

John spoke of how most of the British living in this part of Spain, apart from a few die-hard nationalists, thought Britain had gone mad when the vote to leave had won. 

“Living out here gives you a different perspective,” said John. “Many Brits only know Europe from their annual holiday to the Spanish costas.”

“The biggest worry for us in Spain is how we stand in terms of pensions and healthcare,” John added.

“Theresa May suggested that EU nationals living in Britain for longer than five years would get “settled status” which includes healthcare, education and welfare rights. Although this is just an opening gambit in the talks, I would hope that the EU would come to an arrangement that suited us all.”

John Moody noted how even before Brexit, the UK government warned that Brits who had retired to Spain could not assume that their present rights would be guaranteed. 

“Arrangements as they now stand allow for us to receive pension increases in line with inflation, but withdrawal may mean the end of reciprocal arrangements.”

“As long as the Spanish government does not panic, and introduce draconian measures about property ownership and taxation,” John Moody added.

The artist also spoke of how he had noticed a cooling of relationships between the Brits in the vicinity and the local Spanish when the Brexit discussion was announced. 

“I expect more like this when Brexit hits the front pages of the papers again. But for the present, most of the locals seem to have forgotten we are leaving.”

Sharing John Moody’s Brexit concerns is 48-year-old Illona Mitchell, who moved from the UK to the Baza region of Spain 14 years ago.

Illona says she is already feeling the pinch from the Brexit turmoil, thanks to the pound to euro exchange rate falling in the wake of the vote. Illona has the maintenance for her 12-year-old daughter paid into a UK bank account by her ex-husband. What was already a tight budget to live off has become significantly tighter as those relying on an income from a British bank account now have considerably less euros for their pounds. 

Illona also spoke of how the lack of answers to the questions British expats in Spain have over Brexit is concerning, and how there are many rumours circulating as what might happen as a result of Brexit. 

One such rumour is that the expats will lose their ‘Numero de Identification de Extranjero’ (NIE) number. An NIE is the identification number for everyone who is not a Spanish citizen in Spain. 

Without an NIE, things such as getting children into a Spanish school, being entitled to healthcare and even buying a house or car would be much more difficult, warns lllona. 

Returning to the UK would be far from ideal for Illona, but the British expatriate fears that for many UK emigrants living in Europe, relocating back to Britain might be the only option. 

“An exodus of Brits returning from Spain due to harsher rules regarding their status over here would surely not be in the UK’s interest with its already fraying infrastructure,” says Illona. 

Married couple Rob Reynolds and Mandy Lewis live in a remote hamlet in the Sierra de Baza. Like John Moody, Rob and Mandy voted to remain in Europe by post. The couple say they were stunned by the Brexit outcome and have remained so ever since.

Rob, 57, who worked in the forces, relies on a British pension as his income in Spain.

Since the Brexit vote, Rob receives approximately 30% less pay due to the pound nosediving overnight after the referendum.

Besides their monetary angst, both Rob and Mandy are deeply worried how Brexit will affect their rights in Spain.

Rob recently underwent cataract surgery in Baza and is concerned how their healthcare in Spain might change under Brexit.

“On an already limited budget, we couldn’t afford to pay for private healthcare,” says Rob.

Rob and Mandy are also worried about their passports and how they may be altered because of Britain leaving the EU.

“And will our EU driving licences still be valid?”, Mandy asks.

The couple are considering applying for Spanish citizenship but are unsure about how they would stand on paying tax on Rob’s UK pension.

“It’s like nobody cares about the British living abroad,” says Mandy.

“All we want is someone to have the courtesy to give us some answers and help put our minds at rest.”

For now, until they’re given some answers, for the handful of British expats living in this rustic Spanish region, their life under the cobalt and cloudless Spanish sky remains tainted with haziness and uncertainty. 

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a freelance journalist in the UK and founder of content marketing specialists PW Copy http://pwcopy.com/