What is it going to be like for Spaniards living, studying and working in the UK following Brexit? They have safeguards from the government, including ‘settled status’, and while they might be used as an exchange coin by Westminster in negotiations with Brussels, and possibly the target of some racist treatment for the more excitable fringe of British society, they should be OK.
The corollary is clear – if they are going to be all right, then so will the Brits in Spain – despite going from green-police-letter ‘Community citizens’ (with limited voting rights) to TIE foreigners in the blink of an eye.
The Spaniards in the UK are treated poorly by Madrid (nothing new there) and thanks to paperwork issuers, only around 5.6% of them voted in the past Spanish elections. As we know to our cost, those who don’t vote do not capture the interest of politicians.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry deals with the paperwork for Spaniards abroad here.
How many Spaniards are living in the UK? As usual, no one can be sure (although the INE tries its best). We read at Wiki that ‘...the number of Spaniards enrolled in the Spanish consulate in the United Kingdom was 102,498 as of January 1, 2016. The INE estimates that there are about 240,000 Spaniards residing in the United Kingdom...’. Another link from the INE itself claims 139, 236 Spaniards as of January 1st 2019.
Apparently, while there are some in Wales and Scotland (and a bemused handful in Northern Ireland), the largest concentrations can be found in Kensington, Regent's Park and Chelsea, all in West London.
In a reaction to the Conservative victory in the UK elections, Pablo Casado from the PP said Pedro Sánchez could be sure that ‘...he has the full backing of the PP to ensure the government is as supportive as possible to the Spaniards living in the United Kingdom, and at the same time also to the British who have their permanent residence here...’.
Will Gibraltar change this sunny image? Casado again: ‘I want to make it very clear that any change in status that Gibraltar receives within the EU would only be granted with the express authorization of the Kingdom of Spain’.
Around fifteen thousand Spaniards work in Gibraltar (population 36,000).
Besides Gibraltar, another concern of Spain is Scotland. Would the Scots successfully secede from the UK in some future referendum? Well, fine and dandy, and they would be welcome to join (re-join) the EU, only... wouldn’t this encourage those troublesome Catalonian independence-seekers? From a New York Times correspondent: ‘For Spain, an important outcome of the British election is the crushing nationalist victory in Scotland. Sturgeon is already calling for another independence referendum. No doubt Catalan independence movement will welcome that’. A full article from El Independiente on Boris Johnson’s ‘two Catalonias’ winds up with ‘...Nicola Sturgeon said the convicted Catalonian politicians had been jailed "for trying to allow the Catalans to peacefully choose their own future."...’.
Thus, the future political relations between Spain and the UK will be forged in the small details of the inconsequentialities of nationals from the one living, working or studying in the other. Meanwhile, the doubt continues.
La Vanguardia considers the difference between an orderly and a hard Brexit for Spanish residents in the UK (we shall know which by the end of January). Either way supposes extra formalities.
Economic consequences for Spain following the Brexit are of more concern to the politicians than the social issues (wasn’t it ever thus?). From El Confidencial, we learn that the Spanish GNP will fall slightly as the UK is currently Spain’s largest export market.
El Correo talks to a Spanish driver on the London Underground, who is 57 and will return when she reaches retirement age, to live in Spain. Aratxu is also a moderator on the Facebook page Españoles en Reino Unido - Surviving Brexit! (here). Unlike Britons moving to Spain for their twilight years, few Spaniards choose to retire in the UK (and even fewer, not to say ‘none’, will purposefully move there on retirement). ‘The future will be difficult’, she says, ‘there are many bilateral treaties left to negotiate between the UK and each European country and many of us fear that they will use us as hostages, that they will press Brussels using the Europeans that still reside here as bargaining chips’. Reading the Facebook page above, several members say they will ‘throw in the towel’ and will be returning to Spain. Apart from mixed-national couples and their rights (and their children’s status), they worry about pensions and the possibility of employment in Spain.
All in all, if the Spaniards (and of course, other EU citizens, they number in total 2,240,000) find that life in the UK becomes more difficult, then we would expect Madrid (and the other EU capitals), regardless of legislation from Brussels, to make life correspondingly harder for its British residents.