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Spain prepares for no-deal Brexit, including guaranteeing Brexpats' rights
SPANISH president Pedro Sánchez reveals he has been working since November on contingency plans for four key areas in case of a 'hard Brexit', in which the UK leaves the European Union without a deal on March 29 this year.
Now the issue of Gibraltar has been largely agreed and no additional border controls will apply for those living in Spain and working in the British enclave, Sánchez is focusing on people, trade, economy and transport.
Protecting Brits in Spain and Spaniards in the UK
British expats living in Spain have been worried about their future since the morning of June 24, 2016 when the referendum results were announced, but Sánchez has them uppermost in his mind – an estimated 750,000 UK nationals live in Spain, his government says, and in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the president is ready to pass a law immediately to prevent them becoming 'illegal immigrants' and to continue to be able to access the national health service, pensions, State benefits such as dole money, and to live and work.
Parliamentary spokeswoman Isabel Celáa says the law will come into force in February if the UK continues without a concrete deal with the required backing.
Where this leaves holiday home owners, present and future, who are not full-time residents in Spain, is not clear, but Sánchez intends to allow Brits to travel freely between the UK and Spain without a visa, and will authorise flights between the two countries straight away, meaning expats will still be able to return for trips to see their families and UK residents will not be cut off from their homes in the sun.
Given that foreign buyers, of whom Brits make up a significant number, are helping the housing market to recover – and boost the economy by spending in Spain on their holidays – it seems likely Sánchez will ensure no extra hurdles apply to purchasing homes on Spanish territory, or for those who already own second properties to live in them permanently in the future when they retire.
British residents in Spain remain sceptical and say they will not believe anything until they see it in black and white, but are quietly confident Sánchez's government will support them as promised.
Spaniards living in the UK have criticised the government in their native country for not giving them 'any type of information' – they say the British authorities have been 'drip-feeding' them 'vague' details, but that even this is 'better than nothing'.
Hearing their collective cry for help, Sánchez has announced he will be thrashing out the details of how to protect the 200,000-plus Spaniards living in the UK at a meeting today (Friday) with foreign affairs minister Josep Borrell – although this issue could be more difficult for Spain to give guarantees on, given that these residents are in the hands of British immigration policies, unlike UK-born expats in Spain to whom national policy, which Sánchez is able to control, will apply.
Urgent talks with Spanish firms at home in and in the UK
Concerning trade, a no-deal Brexit could create hurdles for cross-border sales between the UK and all the remaining EU-27, Spain included: if Britain crashes out without an agreement, it means the so-called 'divorce bill' of an estimated €44 billion, covering the UK's contracted obligations to the bloc including pensions for British civil servants in the EU, will not be paid.
Non-payment of its agreed dues to the EU means the UK is very unlikely to be considered a favourable or reliable trade partner.
Sánchez has been in talks with Spanish companies based in Britain since November – among others, Banco Santander, clothing chains Zara and Mango, plus holdings of Iberia and Telefónica – to help devise plans for how to carry on their businesses if the UK crashes out of the bloc without a deal.
Also, according to ICEX data in 2017, the UK was Spain's third-largest destination for exports of goods and services – in fact, just a year ago, Britain went through a highly-publicised 'lettuce crisis' because harsh winter weather in Spain had reduced the usual crop yield and left it unable to export more than a bare minimum to the UK.
Exports to the UK from Spain have been gradually reducing since the referendum result anyway, and in a worst-case scenario, could even grind to a halt if no agreement between France and Britain is reached over border controls.
Goods transported from Spain to Britain by land go through the port of Dover, and without a deal, border controls in place could delay shipping, meaning perishable goods would go off – including lettuce, and also oranges, of which the overwhelming majority in British supermarkets are grown in the Valencia region on Spain's east coast.
Air travel issues under discussion
Sánchez is also working hard on how to deal with transport issues – without a deal, airlines based in or travelling from the UK whose majority share capital is from non-EU countries will be unable to operate in the European Union, since the existing legal framework covering air travel between Britain and the continent will cease to apply overnight and no other regulatory system will be in place in time.
Given that Iberia is owned by a joint-venture firm along with British Airways, its situation could be seriously compromised.
Josep Borrell says a no-deal Brexit 'is not going to be positive' for Spain, and he and Sánchez will be working together very closely over the next few weeks to put as many systems in place as they can to limit the collateral damage.
But it seems as though the easiest issue to resolve for Spain's government will be that of safeguarding the existing EU-based rights of British nationals living in the country.
Isabel Celáa says a website with full information for citizens and companies is expected to be on air by this coming Monday (January 14).
Overall, Sra Celáa wants to 'transmit a message of reassurance and calm' to anyone who fears they may be adversely affected by a possible no-deal Brexit.
British MPs to vote on Mrs May's deal
UK prime minister Theresa May is due to hold another Parliamentary vote on January 15 on her proposed deal, which is more restrictive than the existing one enjoyed as an EU member but not 'out' enough to satisfy her staunchly pro-Brexit back-benchers, and which has points in common with a so-called 'Norway agreement' – including still having to pay membership but not having a say at the top table, and a transition period running until December 2020 but which could, in theory, be extended if the entire EU-27 agrees.
Mrs May says her deal is the best achievable as a third country, and the EU has approved it in principle, although she continues to rule out remaining in the bloc or the options of either a People's Vote or a second referendum.
It is expected that UK MPs will vote her deal down on January 15, leaving Britain with just two-and-a-half months to decide its next step.
Before cancelling her planned 'meaningful vote' in December on the same deal, Mrs May is thought to have hinted that the only other options to the agreement she had devised were either 'no deal or no Brexit' – a possible lapsus, or maybe truth, that Brits living in Europe have been clinging onto, despite her determination to follow through with the referendum result.
Second photograph: The Original Charity Shop and Library in Jávea (Alicante province), founded and run by European expatriates, including British nationals resident in the area
Note: www.thinkspain.com employs the terms 'migrant', 'immigrant' and 'would-be immigrant' when describing non-EU citizens entering or living in an EU country, either via authorised means or without border clearance. These descriptions cover legal residents as well as persons who may intend to seek asylum but have not yet commenced the process, in addition to those who may be fleeing persecution, armed conflict, severe political unrest, natural disasters or the real risk of torture or death and who are likely to be awarded refugee status, as well as those seeking relief from poverty by attempting to travel to a first-world nation from a developing country and who are not likely to be considered in sufficient immediate danger to qualify for asylum.
This vocabulary is in line with the terminology employed by the BBC and other UK-based British and English-language media.
For EU and EEA citizens, including British nationals, living in a non-native member State, the English-language media in Europe employs the term 'expatriates' or its abbreviation, 'expats'. Whilst this terminology is not, strictly, accurate – since 'expatriates' are traditionally defined as persons on secondment abroad or whose stay is intended to be temporary – its use in English-language media in Spain originated in the early 1970s and is designed to differentiate between migrants from the European Union, who are not considered by their host nations as 'immigrants' but as 'residents', and those from third countries.
'Residents' is the term employed by www.thinkspain.com to describe persons living in a specific area, irrespective of nationality, and includes native or naturalised citizens, although in Spain, it is the name used to describe non-Spanish EU citizens residing permanently in the country.
The term 'Brexpat' may be used to describe Britons living in the EU who may be affected by their native country's decision to withdraw from the Union, popularly termed 'Brexit'. The qualification of 'Brexpat' began to be employed in the Europe-based English-language media from the date of the referendum on June 23, 2016, and does not imply membership of, nor is it linked to, any official organisation, campaign or association employing the term 'Brexpat' in its title.
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