The recent sentiments expressed by Spanish Secretary of State, Hana Jalloul (Ministerio de Inclusión, Seguridad Social y Migraciones), were welcomed by British citizens across Spain. In fact, they brought a tear to many an eye and a lump to the throat.
In a recorded video message, British Ambassador to Spain, Hugh Elliott – along with Hana Jalloul -clarified forthcoming changes to the residency document for UK nationals and offered messages of support to the British community in Spain.
The quality and frequency of the information provided by the British Embassy over recent weeks has reassured many resident Brits. The clear steps to the new process, and the necessary requirements, have been frequently communicated to relevant stakeholders. However, it was reassuring to hear directly from the Secretary of State. The simple, straightforward approach by Spanish politicians has been welcome, but Jalloul’s personal message really hit home.
As a Brit living in Spain, I’m constantly aware of similarities and differences between here and the UK. Whether it’s the prevailing attitude towards Brexit or coronavirus, a crisis can bring out the best or worst in people – and their governments.
The attitudes of the Spanish authorities and public towards the European Union contrasts with the UK and its constant rhetoric surrounding migrant residents. While Spain has shown compassion for its British residents, and people wishing to join them, the UK’s treatment of Spanish and other European citizens has, at times, been hostile and shameful.
Apart from the British government’s lack of empathy for EU citizens who already live there, the process of securing residency rights is complex and costly. There’s also a considerable risk that EU citizens who were legally resident before Brexit may have their applications rejected or their status downgraded.
Currently, around a third of those applying for “settled status” are being granted the lesser “pre-settled status”, meaning they will need to reapply later and go through another frustrating and nerve-wracking application process.
Another bone of contention for Europeans living in the UK is the British government’s unwillingness to provide EU citizens with proof of legal residency status. Without the equivalent of our new identity card for foreigners (TIE), it may prove difficult to assure employers or landlords they are legally resident. A simple ID card, identifying EU citizens’ rights of residence and confirming their protection under the Withdrawal Agreement, seems an easy solution. It’s difficult, therefore, to understand the British government’s reluctance to supply one.
Brits living in Europe have been sympathetic to the issues faced by EU citizens at the hands of the Home Office. When Hana Jalloul’s message reached the Spanish media, none of us could imagine the UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, delivering a similar message to EU citizens in the UK. That sympathy also comes with an eye on our own situation. Apart from our concern for EU citizens, there’s the fear that the Spanish authorities might change their view towards us if their own citizens are treated poorly by the UK.
Personally, I don’t see that happening – I trust the Spanish government to protect my rights, and to do so with good grace. Spain has long been considered one of the most pro-European countries in the EU. Our citizens’ rights, negotiated as part of the Brexit Withdrawal – a legally binding international treaty – are safe in Spain’s hands, regardless of who else might want to wriggle out of their legal commitments.
Spain, thankfully, chose to make things simple and straightforward for British residents. Had they made it more complicated, or riskier, I would have grumbled, but I would have got on with it. After all, I’m not going anywhere.
I’m grateful for the ease of our transition, and the welcome I’ve received throughout my 13 years in Spain. So, thank you Hana, for your kind words, your warm heart, and for echoing the way we feel about your wonderful country. It is, and always will be, home.
By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain