OPINION
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Surviving Brexit

Feeling of security enjoyed by Spaniards in the UK replaced by deep uncertainty and anxiety

A UK flag emblazoned with the stars of the European Union.
A UK flag emblazoned with the stars of the European Union.DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS (AFP)

I have always loved Britain. And my experience of British people has always been positive, both before, when I was only visiting, and since 2015, when I started living here. They have always made me feel at home.

Who would dare to change job, move house, ask for a mortgage or start a family?

However, the referendum has brought big changes. The feeling of security, or being welcome, and contributing to the community we live in has been replaced by uncertainty and anxiety. What was previously a given – the right to live and work here, to contribute to and make use of certain services and the right to a pension or healthcare – can no longer be taken for granted. Many of us lose sleep at night thinking about whether we will be able to stay or if we will become second-class citizens.

While the British population in general has reacted well, the anti-immigration campaign run by the tabloid press has boosted the number of racist incidents and made many people feel unsafe to the point of avoiding talking their own language on the street.

The uncertainty has prompted many people to try to acquire permanent residence within the current system so that their status is assured. However, the registration process is far from simple, and if, for example, you have failed to make Social Security contributions for five years running – even if you are a student or a parent who has gone part-time – the only way you can get permanent resident status is if you have been paying for private medical cover. This is news to almost everyone and so people who have lived here for decades are seeing their applications rejected.

For people like me who have been here for less than five years, things are even more uncertain. Who would dare to change job, move house, ask for a mortgage or start a family? Many people are even thinking of leaving, and these big decisions are putting a lot of pressure on families who may not be in agreement over what to do.

The anti-immigration campaign run by the tabloid press has made many people feel insecure

I’m a member of a group called Españoles en el Reino Unido-Surviving Brexit (Spaniards in the UK – Surviving Brexit), which offers a forum for Spaniards living in the UK to share information and concerns. The group has also managed to open a channel of communication with the Spanish government and with Spanish politicians to talk about reciprocal negotiations that we hope will guarantee our rights – and those of British people living in Spain, many of whom were unable to vote in the referendum.

My hope is that, besides dealing with the more complex matters Brexit entails, both the UK and the EU can reach a specific agreement soon so that the millions of people who have been affected by the situation on both sides of the English Channel can move forward with their lives and avoid being used as bargaining chips.

Silvia González López is a member of the ‘Españoles en el Reino Unido-Surviving Brexit’ group.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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