Waiting for God Knows What

Berni Armstrong, an English singer-songwriter who was born and brought up in Lagos and has lived
much of the rest of his life in the Catalan town of Capellades, has just become an Irish citizen. This is because under Irish law, if you have at least one Irish grandparent, you are eligible for Irish citizenship. Berni, having had the requisite relative, immediately applied. I know of two other British residents in Catalonia - one of whom I don't think has so much as clapped eyes on the Liffey - who are doing exactly the same thing.

Earlier this week The Times reported that about a hundred British expats are leaving Spain every day, but failed to add that many of us are desperately trying to stay by finding alternative ways to remain within the EU, should the British in Britain (or perhaps just the English in Britain) decide to slip their European moorings on the 23rd of June. There are nearly 760,000 British residents in Spain (according to the BBC) or 380,000 (according to the Independent) or 319,000 (according to the Daily Telegraph): either way there are more British expats in Spain than any other part of Europe. Most of them are based on the islands or along the coast, and many are retirees who live in linguistically gated communities and have little or no contact with the local populations amidst whom they bask. But there are also tens of thousands of us who have made ourselves entirely at home here. We speak Spanish (and if we live in Catalonia, the Valencian area or the Balearics, we often speak Catalan); we follow the local news and hold political opinions about it (or are politically active concerning it); we pay our taxes and social security quotas here; and many of our friends, some of our wives and partners, and often all our children are from here. And none of us want to go 'back'. Back where? In the UK we would be fish out of warmer waters, strangers in a familiar land.

The problem is that not only do we not know what would happen to us if Britain left the EU, but nobody else seems to either: all the websites that appear when you Google 'consequences of Brexit for UK expats' (or similar) contradict each other. At one extreme is the best-case theory that we would have 'acquired rights' which would guarantee us much the same status post-Brexit as that which we enjoy now. At the other extreme is the worst-case possibility that we will all have to re-apply for our residence and work permits, and this time we would be in the 'other' queue, the painfully slow and notoriously unpredictable one for non-EU applicants, at the end of which we might well be sent back to the British Isles to reapply for re-entry. Viewed from here, then, a possible Brexit leaves us puzzled and fretful. What is it, we ask ourselves, with the English – and we do suspect that it's mainly the English – and Europe? Why does Britain give the impression of being the most Europhobic country in the UE? Why, for example, are anti-EU bumper stickers and other similarly messaged accessories far more prevalent in the UK than anywhere in Spain?

So the only thing we're sure about here is that nothing is sure. Hence the recent aforementioned increase in the Irish population. For those of us without Irish grandparents, the only chance left to guarantee our European rights is to flaunt our many years of residence here before Madrid's Ministro de Labor y Inmigración in the hope that it'll give us Spanish passports. Taking care not to mention that for plenty of those of us who happen to live in Catalonia (though by no means all) this would be an ironically painful last resort given that we have long supported the considerable efforts of millions of Catalans to leave Spain to form an independent Catalan Republic, most of whose potential residents, it should be said, would like it to remain firmly within the EU.

Matthew Tree, The Guardian, 30/103/2016 (versió original amb el títol original).


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