Report of the hearing:
Giving evidence to a hearing of the Spanish parliamentary committee on the effects of Brexit, EuroCitizens highlighted the “human cost” of Brexit for British citizens who live in Spain and Spanish citizens who reside in the United Kingdom. EuroCitizens, which campaigns for the rights of UK nationals in Spain and Spanish nationals in the UK, told the Comisión Mixta, an all-party committee comprising senators and members of parliament, that the impact of Brexit on these citizens could be catastrophic.
Among the areas of concern brought to the attention of the committee by EuroCitizens’ vice-president Michael Harris were:
- British citizens in Spain already face massive uncertainty about their future and the potential loss of their European citizenship and identity.
- In the field of work, the EU negotiating guidelines have admitted the need for recognition of professional qualifications and social benefits such as unemployment pay. However, there is no mention of the right to start or maintain a business, or about British public-sector employees, or about freedom of movement issues that affect freelance professionals whose work requires them to move among various European Union countries.
- On pensions, aggregated pensions (where people have paid into state pension schemes in various EU countries where they have worked) are threatened by Brexit. And UK pensioners living in the EU face the possibility that their pensions will be frozen and no longer increase annually once the UK leaves the EU.
- The medical coverage of UK pensioners in Spain is a huge concern. Unless existing rights are guaranteed and agreement on funding their care reached by the British and Spanish governments, pensioners could face prohibitively expensive health insurance to be able to remain in Spain or be obliged to return to the UK.
- Brexit could bring about the separation of families if Britons become non-EU citizens overnight. For example, the right to bring an elderly parent from your country of origin to live with you will probably disappear.
- The close educational links between Spain and the UK will be weakened and this could affect thousands of Spanish and British students who study in the respective countries.
- Political rights – Brexit will mean that British residents in Spain and Spanish residents in the UK will lose all rights to vote in local and European elections or be candidates in municipal elections.
“We are not bargaining chips”
Michael Harris, vice-president of EuroCitizens, told the hearing: “We are talking about people who have made their lives in another country on the basis of the citizenship rights of the European Union. These citizens should not be used as bargaining chips in negotiations between the United Kingdom and the EU27 on the terms of Brexit.”
“Spain and the United Kingdom, through their institutions, businesses and people have maintained a long and fruitful relationship over many decades. It is in the interests of both parties to maintain a close relationship and for this it is essential to give their citizens clarity, legal security and confidence in an agreement based on non-discrimination and the possibility of permanent residency that allows them to continue their lives without the uncertainty and anxiety which they are suffering at present.”
According to official figures, almost 309,000 Britons live in Spain, while more than 150,000 Spaniards live in the UK. These are the numbers of people who have registered with the authorities in each country – the real totals are likely to be considerably higher. For instance, the Institute of Public Policy Research (a London-based think tank) estimates that 761,000 British citizens live in Spain.
Already, applications from long-term British residents for Spanish citizenship have increased dramatically. This is a time-consuming and bureaucratic process and it can take up to four years to complete. Unfortunately, there is no dual nationality for British citizens in Spain (unlike for Spanish citizens in the UK).
High-level meetings with British and European officials
EuroCitizens has previously had meetings with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the Department for Exiting the European Union, and – as a member of British in Europe – has participated in meetings in the European Parliament, at Westminster, and in a face-to-face meeting with Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator for Brexit.
“Our conclusion from the meeting with Barnier and from the subsequent European Union negotiating guidelines, is that they have given clear principles that citizenship agreement is priority, that it has to be reciprocal, and that it gives lifetime rights in all areas – not just residency,” said Michael Harris.
“However, from the British government we have received no clear guarantees, and our meetings with British officials have been covered by a veil of secrecy. It has become clear that the British government seriously underestimates the complexity of citizenship issues. European citizenship is a complex bundle of indivisible rights and is not simply a question of residency or work permits.”
EuroCitizens is a Madrid-based campaigning group which was created in the wake of the result of the Brexit referendum. We are concerned about our future as Britons who live in Spain and about that of Spanish people who live in the UK, as the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has turned us into “bargaining chips” in negotiations on Brexit and left us facing an uncertain future and the loss of current rights as European citizens. Our aim is to defend the rights of European citizenship of Britons in Spain and of Spaniards in the UK – specifically the right to reside, the study and to work in the whole of the European Union. We are working for an open and tolerant Europe.
About British in Europe
British in Europe is a coalition of 11 citizens’ groups of UK nationals throughout Europe. It is the largest group of British citizens who live and work in Europe and actively campaigns for the rights of UK citizens in the EU and supports EU citizens in the UK. As well as EuroCitizens, there are three other groups in Spain: Bremain, ECREU and Europats.
British in Europe presented the British government with an “Alternative White Paper” which urged that all parties involved in the Brexit negotiations agree that “the UK’s withdrawal from the EU should not have retrospective effect on individuals” and that “UK citizens currently resident in the EU and EU citizens currently resident in the UK should be expressly treated as continuing to have the same rights as they had before Brexit.”
This is not confined to a right of continued residence but extends to all related rights such as the acquisition of citizenship, the right to continue to work, whether employed or self-employed, or run a business, recognition of qualifications, right to study, right of equal treatment, right to move between and work freely across all EU countries without loss or change of any existing EU rights, the right to healthcare, pensions, social benefits/social assistance etc. In short, the full complex of indivisible EU citizenship rights that they currently have should be guaranteed for these individuals.