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Brexit: Adiós Titanic

Madrid-based author Giles Tremlett writes about the difficulty of imagining life in Spain after the UK leaves the European Union

The mothership is leaving, and more than one million British citizens are being set adrift in Spain and other countries in the European Union, exposed to the turbulence of a Brexit that is still to be defined and offers us no guarantees. Who is going to throw us a life raft?

A Union Jack among EU flags at an anti-Brexit march in London.
A Union Jack among EU flags at an anti-Brexit march in London. AFP

We have had nine months to get used to the idea, but it is still impossible to imagine what our lives will be like after Brexit. If the first blow was against our identities as Europeans, the second is aimed at our future. It seems clear that I will no longer be a EU citizen, despite having lived nearly half my life – 25 years – across the road from the Retiro Park in Madrid.

The first victims of Brexit are the four million people who crossed the English Channel to settle outside their country of origin

The same thing will happen to my children, who were born and brought up here in Spain. They are loyal fans of Atlético de Madrid soccer club, so at least they have been fostering a capacity for suffering and resilience. Under Spanish law dual nationality is not an option for us, despite the fact that it is an option for Spaniards living in the UK.

We continue to ask the Spanish government for a gesture of generosity akin to that offered to the descendants of the Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain. In other words, we want a special law that would see those of us who have been here for more than 10 years, paying tax and social security, eligible for the dual nationality option on offer in most other European countries.

The first victims of Brexit are the four million people who crossed the English Channel to settle outside their country of origin. The 300,000 British citizens in Spain feel a certain family affinity with the almost 200,000 Spanish living in the UK. We are two sides of the same coin, since the agreement on our future will be reciprocal – in other words, whatever they give to your niece, sister or daughter who has emigrated to the UK is what they will give to me and my children. That is why those of us who are campaigning to maintain the rights acquired on both sides are knocking at doors together, here in Spain and in the UK. We have already met with the British parliament’s Brexit Commission and several days ago we met the negotiator, Michel Barnier, in Brussels.

Brits in Spain and Spaniards in the UK are two sides of the same coin, since the agreement on our future will be reciprocal

Many are telling us that we need to stay calm, but there are few politicians who realize that our problems started on the day of the referendum, when suddenly our futures became uncertain. It has been impossible to plan ahead since then. This is why we are asking negotiators to come to an agreement that will safeguard all of our rights before anything else is decided. Whoever thinks that it shouldn’t be so, will have to tell us – both Spaniards and British citizens – which rights they believe we should lose.

Giles Tremlett is an author, journalist and member of the British in Europe group.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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