A report published just hours after London Mayor Boris Johnson said that he would be backing the Brexit campaign found that the average Briton is around £3,000 a year better off with EU membership.
Johnson’s decision also saw the pound take its sharpest tumble on the currency exchanges for nearly a year as economists made it rather clear: big business, bankers and much of industry want Britain to remain in the EU.
However, people have grown tired of hearing about the wants and whims of corporations, and perhaps Boris was cleverly trying to tap into something more human – a fear of losing control of the UK’s borders, purse strings and sovereignty.
But there are many humanistic and personal reasons for the UK to remain in the EU that benefit every Briton. And there is one huge group of Brits who stand to lose more than most if Brexit becomes a reality – Brits in Spain.
With more than 1.2 million estimated to be living in Spain, this group of Brits is one of the largest outside the UK, and will be most directly impacted if votes go the way of the “Out” campaigners.
Here are five reminders why EU membership is great for British expats in Spain…
Nobody knows for sure right now what concessions will be put in place if Brits suddenly lose their EU membership status. There are thousands of Brits in Spain doing very important jobs, so those currently employed are likely to find that their employers do all they can to push through the necessary paperwork to keep them on.
But that is only half of it. Spain has proven an attractive destination for Brits seeking a new life overseas, often before they have secured a job. Thousands have arrived on the Costa del Sol without any work lined up, but have quickly found gainful employment because, well, they are entitled to work anywhere in Spain because they are EU citizens.
The UK and Spain currently have a reciprocal healthcare agreement that works very well for both parties. Brits who require medical attention in Spain need only present their EU documentation to ensure their needs are met – largely – for free. Then, each year, the NHS tots up what it “owes” to Spain and settles the bill. Spain does likewise for the thousands of mostly young Spaniards who now call the UK their home.
But a UK outside of the EU would mean that hundreds of thousands of Brits in Spain would likely lose this right, meaning the majority would have to take out potentially expensive private health insurance unless they were now classed as a permanent resident in Spain. When one considers just how many recently arrived Brits of pensionable age there are in Spain, the idea of them all losing their right to free healthcare does not really bear thinking about.
A current UK driver’s licence is valid across the European Union, which means that Brits who learnt to drive in Blighty can move to Spain, buy a car and carry on driving (with the occasional hair-raising induction into Spanish road culture) without a care in the world.
A UK outside the EU would necessitate at best reams of paperwork to order a new licence, and at worst the possibility of having to re-sit one’s driving test. Unlikely, sure, but who knows what crazy schemes are likely to be cooked up if Brexit happens?
European Arrest Warrants may not mean much to the average Brit in Spain, but for an undesirable handful, they are to be feared as much as a 4am knock on the door. Britain and Spain currently share extradition treaties set up under the EU, which means that any undesirables who may “flee” to Spain can be tracked down, arrested and sent back to the UK, as occasionally happens.
What’s more, British and Spanish police and crime units work together to ensure that the net is cast wider, and closes tighter, than it would if the two nations tried to go it alone. Spain used to be a relatively safe haven for criminals on the run. It is not anymore, largely thanks to the efforts of the EU to ensure closer collaboration between crime-fighting agencies.
Thousands of Brits own property in Spain, and judging by recent data and trends, thousands more are planning to do so very soon. The Spanish property market is one of the most attractive for British investors anywhere in the world. Yes, mostly because of its affordability, variety, build quality and the excellent Spanish climate, but also because it is very easy for an EU citizen to buy a home in Spain.
Take the UK out of the EU, however, and things can change very rapidly. Again, nobody knows for sure just what sort of relationship Spain or the EU will arrange with an estranged UK, but the chances are slim indeed that it will be more beneficial for homebuyers than the current rules; rules that offer security, transparency, swift processes and a level of ease that many take for granted.