Anne Hernandez and Richard Hill, together with 5 other representatives from Facebook Group Brexpats In Spain, travelled up to the British Embassy in Madrid last Thursday, September 19th to meet with Stephen Barclay, the Secretary Of State For Exiting The EU.
Whilst this meeting applies to expats living in Spain, the information is relevant in many ways to all British Citizens in EU27.
Read their report of the meeting here:
In the first instance, we thanked Stephen Barclay for actually coming to see us and thanked the Embassy for arranging and enabling the visit. The attendees said it was a shame his predecessors had not made the trip because the British here in Spain feel totally abandoned. Many of us were unable to vote in the 2016 Referendum because we had lived out of the UK for more than 15 years so already felt disenfranchised and with still no sign of that promised vote for life, we feel further neglected. He apologised but said he is very concerned for us in the EU as he has family in Luxembourg and knows how worrying it is for us all.
The attendees said that with just 42 days to go till 31 October, if we do leave then, we are not happy and some, who are already ill, are making their conditions worse or are being treated now for depression. Anne said Brexit is cruel. Richard said that if any die as a result of the stress of Brexit it will be blood on the UK government’s hands
At this point Anne asked if the UK had put in place a repatriation/compensation programme because many will have to leave if our citizens’ rights are not protected. He replied that there is no such programme because our rights will be protected. Both Richard and Anne said we need to see that in writing because to date, Spain and the EU, seem unaware of it. This comment was ignored and he went on to say that there is a deal being prepared and the intention was that we will leave with a deal. Anne replied that with just until the end of next month to ‘get ready for Brexit’ we need to know what our rights will be because many will have to make some considerable and unwanted changes to their lives. Anne added that she had joked a while ago that she would like to charter a few planes and land the UK pensioners en masse in Heathrow and say ‘here we are, your British citizens have returned and some of us need 24/7 residential care, others need ongoing medical treatment, many have nowhere to live, but we are here.’ He said that the UK realises the importance and economcal value of keeping us here and to continue honouring the S1 without further burdening our NHS and that was their intention.
Anne reminded him that Boris had referred to the deal as being just a ‘germ of a deal’. Richard asked if it is a new deal or Mrs May’s 3 times already declined deal. He said it is the same withdrawal agreement minus the Irish backstop. He said he had voted 3 times in favour of it too and he will continue to vote for it. The Ambassador, Hugh Elliott, confirmed that it is the UK’s intention to protect our rights and that the text of the deal that the UK is going to put forward is being written. Anne said that rather contradicts Boris’ ‘do or die’ leave on 31 October with or without a deal. Mr Barclay said their preference was to leave with a deal and that was their intention. Both Richard and Anne said that the buzz word of the day seems to be ‘intention’ and, whilst honourable, it did not guarantee anything and we need our rights ring-fenced, why is that so difficult? Mr Barclay then said that it is the EU that will not ring-fence our rights. Richard and Anne expressed their disbelief and he continued by asking why we didn’t choose to believe him. Richard said that all the hype and press reports rather put the EU on a better-footing and that Michel Barnier had said that the UK has yet to present a deal. Anne said that Guy Verhofstadt says that the EU has always wanted to protect our rights. Mr Barclay, somewhat angry, asked again why we didn’t believe him. Anne said it was because the EU commmunicates with us and the UK does not and on 17 August she had even sent him an email that he still hasn’t answered. He joked that he had gone one step further and come in person to answer her!
Richard specifically challenged the Secretary of State and said “You are incorrect in your statement, it is not the EU’s failure. The EU, shortly after the referendum wrote to the UK and suggested that citizens’ rights be taken out of the equation, in effect ring-fencing and protecting our rights. The UK failed to respond.” Mr Barclay replied “I wasn’t there then so I can’t comment.”
The meeting then went on to discuss our pension rights - the annual increase and aggregation. He said he realised the 3 year guarantee for the annual increment was not really as much as we wanted (it was pointed out that the UK pension is not an EU competence) but he said that the UK’s intention (that word again!) was to review it in 3 year’s time. It was intimated that this is yet another example of us being used as bargaining chips.
He insisted the UK had initially proposed an agreement to Spain back in December and Spain’s Royal Decree of March was in response to that. We said we found that odd since Spain had stated quite clearly that the UK had to reciprocate the offer within 2 months of leaving the EU and we were unaware that it had been done.
Anne mentioned the 6,000 Brits that cross the border daily to work in Gibraltar and asked what plans had been made for them. He said it was the UK’s intention to discuss that and would ensure this was raised back in the UK. Anne also mentioned freedom of movement and those elderly/infirm relatives who might need to come here to be cared for by a resident family member and vice-versa. He also promised to raise this subject.
Anne also asked if he was aware that we are already being discriminated against having seen job ads stating that only EU citizens need apply. He said that was illegal since we are still EU citizens but even so we are probably in the best EU country post-Brexit and reminded us what France and Macron had insisted on for their British residents. All attendees agreed that we are indeed lucky because Spain has gone out of its way to help us and we are hugely grateful.
The meeting then touched on the subject of changing nationality which some are doing, albeit reluctantly, and having to renounce their British passport because Spain/UK does not have a dual nationality agreement although UK/ Spain does. It was pointed out that there are serious negative inheritance implications in taking Spanish nationality and those undertaking this change need to be aware of them.
Richard insisted again that we need to see the Royal Decree agreed with the UK and in writing, because until then we had little faith in the UK and their concern for us. Mr Barclay couldn’t seem to comprehend why we doubted the UK government. Anne reminded him that in 2016 Boris had said that the Vienna Convention would protect the British in Europe after Brexit so what had changed? Richard said that to return to his question, asking why we don’t trust the UK government, he might be so bold as to suggest that the pleasantries with platitudes stop, that they start speaking the truth and then we might start to believe them. Mr Barclay said that what the press puts out is not his fault. Anne said she could understand that but their press secretary needs to start publishing facts and not platitudes. He said he had been in Luxembourg with Boris to meet Barnier and reflected on what happened there. He repeated that if we leave on 31 October with no deal, it will not be through lack of trying for a deal. Richard demanded again if, on leaving, deal or no deal, our rights will be guaranteed and said he just wanted to hear a simple yes or no. Needless to say the reply was not that simple but ‘it is our intention to strike a deal that satisfies everybody’s needs’ caused Richard and Anne to express their disbelief again. He said the UK and Spain are hopeful for a satisfactory outcome. He said he had been in Cyprus yesterday and will be visiting other EU countries next week. He added that David Frost, Boris’ Europe Advisor, and his team had been in Brussels this week in technical talks and was convinced that we can do a deal before 31 October but on that date if the EU will not bend, we will be leaving deal or no deal.
Anne Hernández (President), RIchard T Hill (Vice-President)
BREXPATS IN SPAIN