The UK’s 200,000 Spanish expats worry about Brexit and call for back-up from their national leaders

Spaniardsbrexit-6 living in the UK – officially just over 200,000 – are concerned about the possible effects on their lives of a Brexit and are urging candidates for this Sunday’s general election in Spain to take positive action.

So far, only Podemos has travelled to the UK to campaign for Britain to stay in the European Union, although all parties vying for presidency across the scale from far-left to right are against a Brexit and have warned of consequences for Spain and the UK if it prospers.

Aside from the more than 300 Spanish firms based in the UK – including Zara’s parent firm Inditex; Mango; Manolo Blahnik; Santander bank; Telefónica and other major market players – and over 700 firms based in Spain funded by British capital, the UK is Spain’s third-largest trading partner after France and Germany, representing around €55 billion of its imports and having exported nearly €5bn to Britain just in the first quarter of 2016.

Financial markets are already showing a fall in Sterling, which reduces when the polls show Brexit is in the lead but slightly increases if the ‘Bremain’ camp’s success looks more likely – and Spain worries that this will make Brits’ family holidays to their favourite sunshine destination too expensive, reducing numbers, and cutting the amount they spend on their visits.

But those who feel most ignored by their potential national leaders are the nearly quarter of a million Spaniards living and working in the UK.

Many of these have moved to Britain either to find work, or to enable them to practise their chosen profession which they have been unable to do at home, and their long-term plans often involve returning home when the Spanish job market evolves sufficiently.

Others, the very elderly, were child evacuees in the Civil War, and others were exiles during Franco’s reign – or even children born to British expats in Spain who have Spanish nationality.

They are very worried that a Brexit would affect their right to use public services in the UK, or to claim unemployment benefits or income support if their professional luck takes a temporary turn for the worse.

Spain’s electoral candidates, complain Spaniards in Britain, have not made any public announcements about their Brexit concerns, only giving their opinion when pointedly asked by the media.

“It would be the worst possible news in economic terms for many, many years,” warned acting president Mariano Rajoy (PP).

“A Brexit would be a disaster for the Spanish stockmarket – and all stockmarkets – so I hope the British public will vote to stay in; last but not least, because we in Europe want them to remain.”

Pedro Sánchez, head of the socialists (PSOE) who was a hair’s breadth from becoming president after the December general elections, said the Brexit/Bremain referendum and the refugee crisis were the two main Achilles’ heels of the ‘European project’.

The EU, Sánchez insists, was conceived as a form of ‘cooperation and shared values’ – a view which differs to those of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign, who claim the UK is too tightly controlled by Europe and ‘wants to be able to make its own laws’.

Sánchez said his party would join forces with other social democrats in the EU to ‘relaunch the Europe project’ if a Brexit prospered, to enable the remaining 27 countries to ‘carry on progressing’ and create a ‘stronger, more united, more prosperous and more social’ EU.

Centre-liberals Ciudadanos’ head Albert Rivera likened the EU to Spain, which, he said, needs to ‘move on’ since becoming ‘stuck in a rut’ and ‘frightened of change’ would leave to a ‘fragile government and institutions’.

This is also exactly how he describes the current situation in the EU, and says member States need to ‘take advantage of’ its crises to ‘restart’ the multi-national project.

Podemos and United Left, now standing for election as a joint effort titled Unidos Podemos – which translates as ‘Together We Can’ – is the only party which is actively trying to fight a Brexit taking place.

But among its membership are a few politicians from the Spanish Communist Party, who believe Spain should leave the EU and ‘gain back its financial sovereignty’.

‘Sovereignty’ over finances is not an issue that affects the UK, since it is not in the Eurozone and has complete autonomy over monetary policy as well as exemption from contributing to State bail-outs, but Spain has suffered harsh austerity measures imposed by the EU, partly as a condition of its bank bail-out fund of €10bn, and partly because of its failure to meet national debt targets.

Unidos Podemos disagrees with the Communists, and is campaigning hard for Britain to remain and for Spain to form part of an ever-closer European Union in which all 28 countries work as a team.

Right-wing politicians in Spain, and a few on the left and in the centre, are also worried that in the event of a Brexit, Scotland will call a second independence referendum to enable it to rejoin the EU – and if it wins, this could spur on the largely-separatist north-easter region of Catalunya.

Most major parties running for presidency in Spain are against Catalunya’s seceding, although Unidos Podemos is the main group which does not want to block a referendum.

The PP, PSOE, Ciudadanos and others have stated outright they would not allow an independence referendum, but Unidos Podemos prefers to ‘solve their differences democratically’ and through open discussion so that, if a referendum did go ahead, the majority would vote to stay in Spain.

Published Think Spain 20 June 2016

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