The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.
Nicola Prentis, The Independent
As a British person living in Spain, I went through the expected post-referendum shock as I realised my suddenly precarious position in the EU. At first, I thought the worst-case scenario would be being forced out, whether by the British government’s treatment of EU citizens in the UK or just the worsening of the already intractable bureaucracy of life abroad when age-old processes unravel.
It took me 14 months to realise the consequences are much worse than I feared. Assuming I can stay in Spain, after all, I’m effectively exiled here if I want my children to have EU passports too. It’s a trap I’m not sure the record numbers of people scrambling to apply for last-minute citizenship in EU countries have fully considered the implications of.
I’ve never considered myself trapped anywhere in almost 20 years of living in eight different countries. Freedom of movement to me has always included dipping in and out of life in the UK. As well as growing up and studying in England, I spent almost every summer from 2000-2014 working in southern England, plus a 15-month period in 2005 working and studying for my Masters Degree in York.
I did another stint in London when I was pregnant with my first child and for the first two months after he was born. My plan had been to move back home in the next 3-5 years, once my children are in full-time school, to be nearer family and to finally put down roots in my own country.
Pre-Brexit, my Spanish status of residente permanente means I and my children are able to remain British citizens in Spain indefinitely. But my dream of living in England again one day would selfishly deny my sons the chance of an EU passport. Even worse, with my eldest born in the UK and my youngest born in Spain, they already have unequal chances.
My youngest is eligible to begin the two to three year process of applying for a Spanish passport now after only one year of continuous residency, but my UK-born eldest can only apply after ten years, which is eight years from now.
If we left during that period, he would lose the right his baby brother has already earned which could cause a horrible rift between them. Also I may be forced to choose between looking after my children’s futures or being closer to home as grandparents age.
Post-Brexit, any or all of our rights to healthcare, my childrens’ education, my pension and other benefits like maternity leave hang in the balance while my ability to live and work in the remaining EU member countries evaporates.
I don’t qualify to apply for Spanish citizenship until 2020 which would be the only way to ensure I can stay regardless of the tectonics of Brexit. But even if I did, because Spain doesn’t allow dual citizenship I would have to renounce my UK nationality with the risk of never being able to claim the UK as my home ever again. Given the UK’s increasingly hostile attitude to foreigners, I couldn’t be certain of anything beyond being an occasional tourist in my own country.
To be clear: I am not complaining about living in Spain. Aside from the weather, Spain’s warmth extends between all three generations, between neighbours and strangers alike. It’s an ideal place to raise young children who are welcomed and fussed over in restaurants until all hours.
Despite the 20 per cent pay cut the falling pound against the Euro has meant to my earnings, life in Spain remains cheaper than in the UK. Full-time nursery costs a quarter of what my UK friends pay, universal schooling starts at age three and rent on a spacious three bedroom city-centre flat in my city is at least 20 per cent cheaper than Bristol which would be a good UK equivalent.
Yet to call myself Spanish would be a complete fraud. I don’t look, sound or feel Spanish. Spain didn’t raise me, educate me, or look after my health for the first half of my life. Its languages are not mine, its nursery rhymes trigger no nostalgia, its comfort foods will never comfort.
Thanks to Brexit ending freedom of movement, and even if I don’t have to become a Spanish citizen in order to stay long enough for both my children to benefit from their right to EU passports, I will still be exiled for the next ten years.
Realistically, the exile will be permanent, because, by the time my sons reach 13 and 11, they will be settled in Spain and feeling something I never will: that they are home already. The end of freedom of movement will rob me and my children of our own country and I will never forgive the people hell-bent on taking it from us.
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