Europe

British expats set to suffer most as France and Spain drag feet over Brexit deal

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered a compromise to the EU this week, over the ongoing feud regarding access to UK fishing waters. It is considered the main sticking point which is preventing either side from securing a trade deal. But French President Emmanuel Macron appears to be putting up the most resistance, and tensions are rising, especially after France closed the English Channel border over coronavirus fears.

Some voices in Spain, such as Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya, are desperate for the EU to secure a deal with the UK — especially as the country holds the largest expat community in the bloc.

She said plainly: “We need a deal.”

Without a deal, the 365,000 UK citizens based in Spain will suffer, and Britons are already hurrying to secure residency in the country as the end of the transition period looms.

Some commentators believe that the country could end up providing few rights to expats in the event of no deal, once the transition period comes to an end, after a spat with Mr Johnson earlier this year.

For instance, a post on the Dispatches Europe website explained: “It’s likely Spain will prove [to be] the most difficult situation after the Johnson Government threw the Spanish under the bus.

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“In July, British officials suddenly began requiring all British tourists returning from Costa del Sol or wherever to quarantine, killing Spain’s chances of saving its 2020 tourism season.”

Euro Weekly News claimed Mr Johnson was “already a villain to many expats now residing on the Costa del Sol” after he withdrew Spain from its safe list of nations in the summer.

Dispatches also asked: “Will this be forgotten as Spain votes on a final Brexit agreement?”

The article, published earlier this month, noted that the country is “not likely” to “forgive and forget”.

The growing uncertainty for expats in Spain is exacerbated by the difficulties of the citizenship process.

The article explained: “The Spanish process requires two exams including a language fluency exam, on the way to getting the right to even make the official application.

“Approvals appear to be random and have no relation to the date of the application.”

It also claims that approximately 77 percent of expat applicants are still in limbo, less than one month before the end of the transition period.

Additionally, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told Downing Street that if he does not see the UK maintaining the rights of the 180,000 Spanish expats, he will reduce the generosity of his deal to protect the 365,000 UK expats in Spain.

He was referring to Spain’s ruling that expats could keep pensions, university degrees, driving licenses, healthcare and work permits.

This threat is far from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s promise in 2018 that expats’ “rights will remain unchanged” even if the UK leaves without a deal.

These complications have sparked panic among expats.

Michelle Jones told Reuters this week that she and her husband relocated to Spain before the UK officially left the bloc to avoid further complications.

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She explained: “We haven’t got a choice, it’s now or never.

“Our family and friends in the UK think we’re mad for doing it [during a pandemic] but we are not going to go through the rigmarole of trying to get visas and things like that.”

Spain and Portugal are actually among just 14 EU member states who have allowed Britons the right to stay for an unlimited period if they can prove their residence prior to December 31.

The remaining nations have much stricter post-Brexit requirements, and Britons will need to apply for a new residence status there.

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Reuters reported that there had been a spike in residency registrations as the Brexit deadline looms.

These troubles are just the tip of the iceberg for EU-based expats, as their finances are also up in the air.

Barclays has also told British expat credit card holders in both Spain and France that it will close their accounts unless they can prove they have a permanent UK address, as have many of the largest UK banks.

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