Wednesday 8 March, Eurocitizens roundtable meeting, fighting for Expats rights
On Wednesday 8 March, EuroCitizens organised a round table discussion in Madrid about the impact of Brexit on citizens.
Top-ranking politicians, experts, and campaigners took part in the event, expressing their concern for the loss of rights of UK nationals in Spain and of Spanish citizens in the UK. They highlighted the need to lobby national governments and the EU Commission to guarantee the rights of the people affected by Britain’s impending departure from the European Union.
María Andrés Marín, director of the European Parliament offices, introduced the seminar by describing the negotiation process between the EU and the UK and explaining the role of the European Parliament. She said that the parliament was ready to help European citizens fight for their rights.
Michael Harris of EuroCitizens emphasised the concern amongst Britons in Spain about their futures: work, pensions, healthcare, the education of their children. He said that, for British politicians, expats in Europe seem invisible, perhaps because 90% cannot vote in the UK or because of lazy stereotyping. This means that the British government can ignore the plight of their own nationals abroad. Harris demanded the full maintenance of EU citizen rights for Britons in Europe and Spaniards in the UK.
British nationals permanently resident in Spain 308,821 (France: 185,344).
Properties owned by British nationals in Spain: 110,373.
British nationals who are employed (65%) or self-employed (35%) in Spain: 59,529.
British retirees who receive a UK pension and live in Spain 107,980.
Spaniards on Erasmus+ programmes in the UK: 5,651.
Senator José Montilla, the ex-president of Catalonia and member of the EU and Brexit committees in the senate and congress, warned that the negotiations could be very difficult. Theresa May has made vague promises to protect the rights of EU citizens to stay in Britain but has done nothing. Montilla asked for realism, reciprocity, and transparency in the negotiation process and said that pressure from citizens was going to be vital to ensure a positive outcome.
Tim Hemmings, deputy head of the British Embassy in Spain, expressed the government line about Brexit and said that ‘Great Britain was a country that listened to its people.’ Maybe that is true for residents living in the UK, but it does not seem to be the case for British expats.
Camilla Hillier-Fry of EuroCitizens introduced the round table, warning that hundreds of thousands of British and Spanish citizens have become bargaining chips in UK-EU negotiations.
The MEP Enrique Guerrero, vice-president of the Progressive Alliance (Socialists and Democrats), said that the European Parliament was concerned with protecting Europeans everywhere. He warned of the danger for many citizens of Theresa May’s threats that ‘no agreement is better than a bad agreement.’ Guerrero said that the key to everything was the battle over free movement of people, something which the British government is determined to terminate and which will have major consequences for citizens around Europe.
The lawyer Ralph Smith, of Gómez-Acebo y Pombo, declared that there was a need for a practical solution to deal with the problems of citizens affected by Brexit. Over the issue of double nationality between the UK and Spain, he said that this would need a change in the civil code. This is not something easy to achieve, but it has been modified recently to accommodate dual nationality for Sephardic Jews.
Vanesa López-Román, spokeswoman for Españoles en el Reino Unido, said that members of her group felt ‘betrayed’ by Brexit. She criticised the increase in xenophobia in Great Britain and described the anxiety that Spaniards in the UK feel about their futures, with their lives ‘on hold.’ She said that, despite commitments such as mortgages and steady jobs, many Spanish residents were considering returning to their home country.
Agustín Reoyo of the union Comisiones Obreras described the situation of Spanish health workers in the UK and expressed his
concern about their future. He explained the impact of Brexit on the healthcare of Britons in Spain. When Britain leaves the EU, there will be no Spanish NHS cover for UK pensioners or for any other groups of Britons currently outside the Spanish national insurance system. The only solution will be a bilateral and reciprocal agreement between Spain and Britain.
Robert Robinson, the vice-dean of the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas, described the important exchange of talent between Spain and the UK. He mentioned the future of research programmes like Erasmus Plus and Horizon 2020, both of which will need continuing finance from Britain. The UK’s participation in the Erasmus programme for undergraduates is only guaranteed until the end of 2018
EuroCitizens would like to thank all the participants in the round table event and the European Parliament for their help and generosity. Guaranteeing the rights of Britons in Spain and Spaniards in the UK is not going to be easy. However, at least we now know that we have the support of influential institutions and individuals and our voice are beginning to be heard.
In the next few months, we must persistently repeat our key messages:
1. Spanish and British citizens cannot be bargaining chips in the negotiations between the UK and the EU. Our lives and futures are at stake.
2. The British government and the European Commission should immediately guarantee all of the existing EU citizenship rights of both groups, Spaniards, and Britons.
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