Europe: The Final Countdown

How Young Brits Living in Spain Feel About Britain Leaving the EU

"When it dawned on me that we'd lost, I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach."

by VICE Staff
30 June 2016, 12:00am

Photo by Paul Geddis

This article originally appeared on VICE Spain

There are currently about 300,000 British people living in Spain. The adorably orange retirees spending their golden years on the Spanish coast might be the most famous of that lot, but there's also lots of young people enjoying the Southern European climate all year 'round. Young people who were able to build their lives in Spain thanks to Britain being part of the European Union.

We spoke to a group of young Brits who live in Spain to hear their thoughts on the results of the referendum and how they see the future.

Natasha Drewnicki from Bristol, England

Natasha moved to Spain straight after graduating from uni in 2008.

VICE: What do you think of the result of the referendum? Did you expect it?Natasha Drewnicki: Waking up to Brexit was a rollercoaster of emotions. I was utterly devastated and I cried – firstly because of the realisation that we'd be turning our back to Europe and secondly because of the realisation that there are so many stupid people in my own country. It seems many people voted to leave the EU out of revenge, because they felt abandoned by Cameron. The far right preyed on these people. The campaign became so polluted by lies and childish games between political parties that – beyond restrictions on immigration – most Leave voters didn't even know what they were really voting for in the end.

Were you in favour of the referendum?
The whole thing was a farce – just another one of Cameron's poor attempts try to appease the far right. I tried to register a few months ago but was not on the electoral register, when living in the UK – I have lived abroad for most of my adult life. So, irritatingly, I wasn't allowed to vote from Barcelona.

How do you think the Brexit will affect you?
I have a NIE – a Spanish tax identification number – and I'm integrated into Spanish society. I speak Spanish and in two years I'll be eligible for Spanish citizenship. Hopefully, by the time they've triggered Article 50 and they're nearing the end of the two-year negotiation deadline, I'll have started the application process for a passport here. It's an unspeakable relief to me that it could be an option to stay here and in EU territory.

Did you talk about the Brexit with other Brits in Spain?
Yeah, we called June 23rd "Doomsday". I spoke to so many strangers on the street – we were united by our sadness and anger, above all.

Heather Cameron from Balloch, Scotland

Heather has lived in Spain for six-and-a-half years.

VICE: Did you anticipate the results of the referendum?
Heather Cameron: No, I'm still in shock. Even when the polls said that it was close, I was sure the 'Leave' camp wouldn't win. I was very complacent – even arrogant, in that sense.

Do you think your situation will change after Britain leaves the EU?
I know they won't send me home tomorrow, but I do feel like I'm not fully allowed to stay. What happens if I get fired? Will the Spanish government allow me to use their public health system or any basic service? If I leave for a while, could I come back? I had questions like that along during the campaign and those feelings became stronger last week. They couldn't give any answers to either camp, and they still don't know.

Being Scottish, how do you feel about the scenario of Scotland possibly staying in the EU?
I'm really interested to see what Scotland does. During the campaign for the Scottish referendum the people who wanted us to remain in the UK warned us that if we left the UK, we'd be out of the EU too. We stayed in the UK and now we're out of the EU against our will. If we have to declare ourselves independent from the UK to be able to remain in the EU, I'll have no problem with that. I've been thinking for a while that Scotland doesn't really have a say in British politics and this referendum just proves it.

Stephen Collins from Derry, Northern Ireland

Stephen has lived in Spain for six years.

VICE: Were you in favour of the referendum? Did you vote?
Stephen Collins: I voted to remain – I wasn't in favour of the referendum at all. It was just one of David Cameron's electoral campaign promises to secure the support of the extreme right within his party. I don't usually vote but I decided it was close enough that I should do my part. As usual, my vote didn't matter much, especially since I come from Northern Ireland. Our future – like Scotland's – is being decided by England without any regard for how it affects us.

Do you think a Brexit will change your situation?
It won't affect me immediately in terms of my legal situation in Spain. As a citizen of Northern Ireland I have a right to an Irish passport, so I can still live and work here as an EU citizen – for now. In the longer term, I'm worried about the state of Europe, and about the effects the decision could have on the Northern Ireland peace process if they decide to enforce the border between the North and the South again.

Farhan Haq from London, England

Farhan has lived in Spain for two years.

VICE: What do you think of the results?
Farhan Haq: It mostly proves how deep the ignorance of the British people runs – especially the older generation. The propaganda used by politicians and the press to push them towards a Brexit vote has been disgusting.

Did you vote?
I did not vote, as I generally don't vote. I followed it and was vocal about my disappointment on social media.

How do you think it will affect you?
I don't think this referendum will change anything, as the new Prime Minister will have to activate Article 50 for us to leave the EU. Based on the fall in the currency markets and the uncertainty it's causing, it will result in a recession for the UK. I think the new Prime Minister will ask for another election and the UK will decide to remain. In the extreme event we do leave the EU, I will need a visa to work and travel within Europe, which will be a hassle. I think the only plus would be that paying my debts off in the UK will happen faster and any money sent home to my family will be worth more.

Rosie Bond from Oxfordshire, England

Rosie's the one on the right

Rosie has lived in Spain for two-and-a-half years.

VICE: Did you expect these results?
Rosie Bond: When it dawned on me that we'd lost, I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. The way I see the world as well as my own future has changed dramatically. I feel like I don't have any control over the situation and that my rights as a European citizen have been snatched away from me. It's made me see Britain in a different way as well – it's not the kind of country I want to be from.

Were you in favour of the referendum?
Not at all. It's too complicated an issue to simplify into a yes/no-question. I also think that the nature of the issue made it easy for Leave campaigners to play on people's fears, prejudices and nostalgia, while the Remain campaign didn't make it clear enough what we gain from the EU.

Ben Hewison from Newcastle, England

Ben has lived in Spain on and off for six years.

VICE: What do you think of the results?
Ben Hewison: I'm shocked, worried and just a little embarrassed about the result. I didn't expect the UK to vote Leave at all. But then again, the anger was very palpable – even if I feel it was misdirected, and I find the idea of casting a protest vote in a referendum utterly stupid. It's just foolish to turn in on oneself, to reject cooperation, unity and working to make things better. I get the anger about the EU, but I was raised to try and change things and not to run away from problems.

How do you think it will affect you?
I have no idea about my situation. I have lived here long enough that I think I should be able to stay, but I'm looking into getting a new European passport if possible – my great-grandmother was Italian, so I'm hopeful.

Mark Dix, from Southport, England

Mark has lived in Spain for 11 years.

VICE: Did you expect the vote to go this way?
Mark Dix: I didn't expect that result and neither did my friends. It seems that even the politicians didn't expect it. Now we're fucked, have no clear strategy and there's a lot of people Bregretting their vote. We lost the opportunity of showing solidarity with the continent.

Did you vote?
I handed in my vote a bit late at the post office, so I don't know if I voted or not. I stayed up some friends on referendum night – at a party, celebrating Saint John's night. There were a lot of expats there too and we all agreed that a Brexit victory would be no surprise, since the Conservatives won the two past elections.

Do you know anyone who is happy with the results?
No, but I don't know anyone who voted for the Spanish Partido Popular either, and look who won last weekend's Spanish elections.

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