OPINION: Britons in Spain will need to get used to life without Cheddar

Brexit means it will be difficult to source our favourite Cheddar, writes cheese-addict Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain.

OPINION: Britons in Spain will need to get used to life without Cheddar
Photo: UKTI/Flickr

As Brits across Europe adjust to a new, post-Brexit reality, the consequences of leaving the EU are gradually revealing themselves to the British public.

So far, most issues haven’t affected Brits living in Spain directly. Whether it’s cries of betrayal from the fishing industry, or businesses concerned re the bureaucracy – and cost – of exporting to Europe, the main impact has been felt by Brits in Britain, not those in Europe.   

However, we have experienced some teething problems of our own – especially related to travel and ordering goods from the UK.

This week, Dutch border guards had a joke at the expense of Brexit, confiscating sandwiches from British travellers. While many extremists jumped to the easy and false conclusion that EU countries are punishing Brits for Brexit, the answer was far simpler: they were applying EU law and border control. Taking back control of their borders, if you wish.

You might not care a fig for post Brexit fishing policy, or EU companies being forced to collect VAT for the British government, but one thing the Brits do care about is good old British food!

The Dutch border incident highlighted the issues that British travellers will face should they attempt to import foodstuffs to any EU country. That includes bringing our favourite foods back from the UK.

So, what, exactly can we bring back with us? Banned foods include all ‘products of animal origin’ – commonly referred to as ‘POAO’ – vegetables, and most fruits. That means no meat or diary, or any products “made with high levels of unprocessed dairy ingredients”. 

Sadly, this includes cakes and my own personal passion – cheese. Baby milk and infant foods are exempt, as are speciality foods required for medicinal purposes. I’m not sure Spanish border staff would accept that mature Cheddar is required for my physical or mental health!

The fruit exemptions include bananas (appropriately bendy, of course!), dates, pineapples and coconuts. Fish can be imported as long as it weighs less than 20 kilos. The new rules apply when travelling from the UK to the EU, not the reverse.

Regardless of how long we’ve lived in Spain, many of us visit the UK with a list of items to ship home. These might not be available in Spain or are more expensive when sourced locally.

Loving extra strong Cheddar does not mean that I dislike Spanish cheese. On the contrary, my taste for cheese is quite diverse. When I mentioned this topic on a social media post, I was inundated with recommendations for strong, quality Cheddar available at several Spanish supermarket chains. Some I have tried, and others I will seek out. However, availability of our favourite foods from the UK is only part of the problem.

UK exporters wishing to sell to the European market are facing significant additional costs and paperwork. Many are rethinking their strategy and analysing whether it is viable to supply European markets post-Brexit. Some companies have already decided that the benefits don’t outweigh the costs.

Companies that decide to continue trading with Spain are unlikely to absorb all additional costs. This means the costs are likely to be passed on to the consumer. If more businesses choose to halt exportation, then our favourite British foodstuffs may be even harder to source.

I’ve lost count of the how many times my hand-luggage has been searched at Stansted airport before I board my return flight to Spain. The reason? Blocks of cheese! It always causes concern on the X-ray monitor, even when (as instructed), I have removed it from my case and put it on full display. Apparently, a large block of extra mature resembles the appearance of Semtex. Never once, have I ever experienced any trouble bringing it into Spain. Now, I won’t be able to.

Whether your particular taste is for Bovril, cheese, corned beef, proper bangers or a Marks and Spencer sarnie, those days are over.

While I regret this situation, I can live with buying my favourite British foods here at a premium, or savouring them when I visit England. I might be hooked on my Pilgrim’s Choice Vintage or Davidstow Cornish Cheddar, but I’d swap them in a second for my freedom of movement. I might be a cheese addict, but I’m not completely bonkers!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain


Member comments

  1. Diddums, Madge – the shambles the EU have made rolling out the coronavirus vaccine alone makes leaving the EU worthwhile all by itself. So adept at sweeping it’s chaotic practices under the carpet the 27-headed monster has for once been caught in the cross-hairs of media attention and even rags like El Pais can’t ignore it. Enjoy the weather…cheddar and marmite toasties for lunch, Jeeves!

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BREXIT: Spain and EU suggest removing Gibraltar border

Madrid and Brussels have approached the British government with a proposal for removing the border fence between Spain and Gibraltar in order to ease freedom of movement, Spain's top diplomat said Friday.

BREXIT: Spain and EU suggest removing Gibraltar border

“The text presented to the United Kingdom is a comprehensive proposal that includes provisions on mobility with the aim of removing the border fence and guaranteeing freedom of movement,” Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said, according to a ministry statement.

Such a move would make Spain, as representative of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, “responsible for controlling Gibraltar’s external borders”, it said.

The Schengen Area allows people to move freely across the internal borders of 26 member states, four of which are not part of the EU.

There was no immediate response from London.

A tiny British enclave at Spain’s southern tip, Gibraltar’s economy provides a lifeline for some 15,000 people who cross in and out to work every day.

Most are Spanish and live in the impoverished neighbouring city of La Línea.

Although Brexit threw Gibraltar’s future into question, raising fears it would create a new “hard border” with the EU, negotiators reached a landmark deal for it to benefit from the rules of the Schengen zone just hours before Britain’s departure on January 1, 2021.

Details of the agreement have yet to be settled.

With a land area of just 6.8 square kilometres (2.6 square miles), Gibraltar is entirely dependent on imports to supply its 34,000 residents and the deal was crucial to avoid slowing cross-border goods trade with new customs procedures.

Albares said the proposal would mean Madrid “taking on a monitoring and protection role on behalf of the EU with regards to the internal market with the removal of the customs border control” between Spain and Gibraltar.

The deal would “guarantee the free movement of goods between the EU and Gibraltar” while guaranteeing respect for fair competition, meaning businesses in the enclave would “compete under similar conditions to those of other EU operators, notably those in the surrounding area”.

Although Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, Madrid has long wanted it back in a thorny dispute that has for decades involved pressure on the frontier.

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