On June 24, 2016, we woke up to news that Britain had voted in favour of leaving the EU.

Wanting to preserve the liberty of freedom of movement within Europe, we had voted Remain, so the news came as a crushing blow. 

Right until the final hour, we were confident Remainers would win. We instinctively knew that a Leave result would make things difficult for British expats and those with ties to Europe.  

My husband Chris and I are one of the estimated 800,000 to 1million British owners of property in Spain. For us, the end of the transition period is an unsettling time. Brexit has deprived us of dreams of long summers in the sun. More pressingly, we are worried about how our Spanish neighbours – and friends – may perceive us. 

We bought an old farmhouse hidden among the olive groves in a small farming community in a remote, mountainous part of Andalusia in 2004. The prospect of experiencing a new culture, learning another language, and embarking on an adventure, drove us to leave Manchester and join this tranquil corner of Spain. 

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We spent many happy years renovating the old casa. We made friends with the welcoming community of Spanish farming folk and the modest population of expats, became part of the vibrant local music scene, and travelled between the two countries at our leisure. 

Although friendly, our neighbours are set in their ways. Our property is in a traditional part of Spain and I fear that the UK’s exit from the EU and the often-antagonistic rhetoric from factions of the British media means we’ll be met with a less hospitable return. 

We are still in touch with some of our Spanish friends via remote messaging, but the pandemic and its travel restrictions has meant we have not returned to our former home since the summer of 2019. The next time we visit Spain will be as non-EU citizens and under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement – new territory for British travellers.  

A conversation we had with a Spanish friend still reverberates. He assumed that everyone in Britain had voted to leave the EU and saw it as an insult to his country.  

Other British expats share similar concerns, worrying that now we are no longer part of the EU ‘family’, there could be a deterioration in personal relations with Spanish acquaintances. 

Citizens of Spain are broadly pro-EU. A Bertelsmann study of the public opinion of Brexit in European countries shows Spain was the country most opposed to Brexit, with 64% of Spaniards affirming their opposition to it. 

When we first bought the house, we would flit between the two countries – working on temporary projects in Britain and staying for protracted periods in Spain during renovations. This suited the nomadic lifestyle we craved. 

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We moved back to the UK full-time in 2013. We had thought about one day spending longer periods in Spain when our boys – then aged six and four – finished their education. Such aspirations however have been significantly tainted by Brexit. 

Up until now, thoughts on where we may hold official citizenship in the future have not been a concern, as Britons could live in Spain indefinitely without becoming an official resident – thanks to freedom of movement.  

But under the withdrawal agreement, Britons are no longer eligible to stay in EU countries for more than 90 days during a 180-day period, even if they own a home, unless they have a valid residence permit. 

Spain forbids dual nationality with most countries, so gaining citizenship would mean renouncing British nationality, something that would inevitably impact issues such as healthcare, work rights and bank accounts. Such details remain largely ambiguous, acting as a dispiriting concern to ‘swallows’ – British owners of second homes in Spain and elsewhere in the EU – like ourselves who yearn for a wandering lifestyle. 

Our instinctive concerns that exiting the EU would mark disquieting times for expats were not shared by all ‘Brits abroad.’ Out of the 360,000 British expats living in Spain, not everyone voted Remain.  

In the ensuing years after the referendum, as chaos surrounding a Brexit deal escalated, culminating in post-Brexit travel rules that aren’t exactly favourable to freedom of movement-seeking expats, ridicule likening Leave-voting expats to ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’ who had ‘shot themselves in the foot’ intensified.  

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I believe caricaturing Leave voters as stupid dupes is counterproductive and achieves little in maintaining quality relations between British and Spanish neighbours.  

Perhaps greater reproach should be directed at the UK and Spanish governments for the lack of information and support about Brexit that has been given British expats. According to research at Goldsmiths University, many expats in Spain have been left feeling confused about their post-Brexit future.  

The study points to how the makeup of British community of residents in Spain is incredibly complex and diverse. Many are apprehensive about how the withdrawal agreement’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ regulations will apply to their living arrangements. 

The coronavirus pandemic has added an extra layer of uncertainty as to when we might return to our ramshackle casa. Even once the virus is no longer a threat to humanity, our long-term plans to reignite the roaming lifestyle we once enjoyed have been dampened by Brexit and the end of freedom of movement. 

The free trade pact between Britain and the EU may have narrowly averted a no-deal split, but it has done little to placate the insecurity felt among many Britons with ties to European countries. 

The ‘Remoaner’ label that some pin on Remain voters like us shows reactionary intolerance and a lack of understanding about the wide-reaching implications of Brexit. For me, Brexit has done much more than scupper dreams of spending long summers in the sun. It has impeded prospects about potential study and work in a country we call home.  

Renouncing British citizenship is imbued with practical, financial and emotional implications. For ‘floating’ expats like us, the demise of freedom of movement in exchange for a system beset with bureaucratic hurdles, comes with profound personal sadness. 

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Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk 

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