The Big Issue
This blog tells of my life in retirement here in a village in southern Spain. Apart from a couple of postings last year describing my involvement in the local municipal elections, politics have played no part. However, last weekend my life in Spain and politics in Britain collided. David Cameron returned from Brussels and announced that a referendum will take place on June 23rd in which voters will be asked to say whether they want the UK to remain a member of the EU, or whether they want to leave. That announcement has put my life on hold for the next four months. Not just my life, but that of all British citizens living permanently and either working or retired in one of the other 27 EU countries. For UK citizens living in the UK this may sound alarmist. There will be many who already know that they want to continue in the EU, others who know equally clearly that they want out, some who don’t see that it matters either way and may well not bother to vote come the day, and a lot of people who don’t know which way to vote and will look to the arguments from both sides before making a final decision. But the vote is not until the summer; for now it can be ignored or put low down the priorities. Not so for British expats. What happens on June 23rd is crucially important to us. If the decision is to stay in the EU we can breathe a collective sigh of relief and resume life as normal. If, however, the UK votes to leave the EU, our lives are thrown into immediate turmoil. We - around two million of us - will the first to be affected, and we will be those most affected. Why? Because we will not know what will happen to our resident status or our treatment as non-EU immigrants. Let’s look at some of the questions that are raised: Will our resident status be decided by each member country individually, or will an EU-wide decision be taken in Brussels? My Residencia the document that entitles me to live here permanently is issued on the basis that I am a citizen of an EU country. Will I be allowed to stay on the same basis, with the same entitlements? If not, what will be my new status and what entitlements will it carry? If my new resident status were to be granted for a period of, let us say, five years, but must then be renewed, would the Spanish Government be bound to renew it, or might they take the view that for health, financial or whatever other reason they would prefer me to leave and refuse me permission to remain? Will my access to bank accounts in Spain change? At the moment, as residents, we have a current account, credit and debit cards which attract no charges, and we earn a small but welcome commission on direct debits to pay our utilities bills. Will my health care entitlement change? On the basis of the S1 Form from Britain, all of my healthcare needs are met, free of charge, by the Spanish state health scheme, with the cost being remitted by the British Government on the basis of my NI payments over a working lifetime. I had retired before I moved to Spain and so have never worked here. Consequently I have never made payments into the Spanish welfare system. Will I have to turn to private healthcare paid for out of my own pocket for my future health needs? What about my UK pension? European Union regulations require equal treatment in the payment of benefits and pensions. In other words, when the state pension paid to people in the UK increases, so the pension paid to expat pensioners in the EU must increase by the same amount. But that is an EU requirement. We have friends and family living abroad outside the EU; the pension they receive is the pension that they were entitled to on the day they left the UK. It never increases. That is a decision that the British Government is entitled to take. And why should I tell myself that it would never do that to us? Right now the European Court of Justice has an appeal before it, challenging the decision taken last year not to pay winter fuel allowance to expats living ‘in a warm country’. The grounds of the appeal are that if the warmer country is an EU country then the Government is in breach of the ‘equal treatment’ regulations. As an aside, the Government appears unaware of the winter temperatures commonly experienced across all but the southernmost fringes of the Peninsula every winter; nor that Spanish houses and apartments are built with little or not heed to thermal insulation; and of course within a year or two of arriving your body has adjusted to the new range of temperatures so that what may feel a little chilly in Britain comes to feel very cold in Spain. What about motor insurance? My comprehensive policy covers me for travel anywhere within the EU, and includes roadside assistance and recovery anywhere in the EU. What will happen when I take a car to the UK? And the same applies to my travel/holiday insurance. And what about my Spanish driving licence? Will that still be valid? As a permanent resident I am entitled to own my own home in Spain, and I do. Will that remain the same, or will restrictions be placed on ownership and use? And if I wish to sell, will restrictions be placed on the amount of money that I am permitted to export from Spain to the UK? As a permanent resident over the age of 70, I can sell my property exempt from any capital gains tax. If I am not an EU citizen will that change? I have given directions that when I die my estate such as it is shall be distributed in line with UK inheritance law. If the UK were to be outside the EU, would that instruction still be valid, or would my Spanish estate have to be distributed according to Spanish law? All of this is not nit-picking or scaremongering. It is an example of some of the consequences that could follow a Leave vote. And the trouble is that whatever soothing, reassuring words the Brexiters may direct at us, they do not know the answer to a single one of these questions. They don’t know because nobody knows, and nobody can know until after a decision to leave has been taken. My personal position is that way back in 1975 I voted unreservedly to stay in the EEC as it then was, and I still believe that the right place for Britain is inside the EU, and I shall vote accordingly. As I say, for the next four months my life is on hold. If the Leave campaign carries the day, the dream becomes a nightmare. In the meantime may I make a request that I would not normally make? Whether you agree with my position or not, will you share this particular post as widely as you can through email, Twitter, Facebook, etc, so that people in the UK can at least know the fears and anxieties of expat Brits in Europe.