Friday, June 24, 2016

The Brexit (El Reino Desunido)

Much to the surprise of everyone, the British voters rose up in an untidy mass last Thursday and voted to leave the European Union. With the two choices before them of staying and going, they chose the alternative favoured by the far-right: to leave.

My Godfather was a senior politician in the Conservative party in the nineteen fifties and he left them to create the National front, a party of far-right racist lunatics. Today, they are called Britain Now, or the UKIP, or the British Nationalist Party:  there are many others besides. The politics of Donald Trump, in short.

Andrew Fountaine told my father once that the Blackshirts only wanted a certain type of supporter. They wanted the poor and the ill-educated: ‘the Little People’. These, he said, could be easily stirred up against an enemy – the Jew, the wealthy or the foreigner. We don’t want any intellectuals or the upper classes to come anywhere near our rallies. We keep it simple.

And so, the results of the referendum in the UK, called by a British upper class fool, and lost on the playing fields of Eton.

But now, it’s not that one Britain won over another: it’s rather more than that; it’s the end of the United Kingdom.

The UK is made up of four strongly allied countries. Of these, Scotland has already tried to secede and, with the current situation, will do so again, this time successfully. Scotland would like to stay, or rejoin – the European Union. It’s doubtful that Brussels would have any strong concerns about them joining. As Scotland leaves the UK (or rather, the ‘Former United Kingdom’ – enjoy the acronym), Northern Ireland, too, would be pleased to leave and join the rest of the Republic of Ireland, also a firm supporter of the EU. Would Dublin or Brussels see a problem with that? Not likely.

By Friday, London was also talking of leaving the UK, perhaps becoming another Singapore. What a collapse of a slightly ridiculous and briefly racist country. Cameron, you screwed up. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – your country is committing an act of self-immolation. How you will be remembered!

The UK voted in a referendum, which, unlike an election, cannot be adjusted or resolved every four years or so. A referendum is permanent.  The ‘Brexiters’ won and their politic was based on fearing the foreigners – the Syrian refugees or the Turkish hoards. They also dislike the Europeans living in the UK, whether working or studying (it would be hard to imagine Europeans going there to retire).  Two million EU citizens, mainly French, German and Italian, and the Irish as well, but also Spaniards and Poles and Bulgarians are in the United Kingdom at the present time: all, evidently ‘after our jobs and our women’.

As we wait for the UK to fragment, we can expect the next racist government to treat the European Union citizens with the politics that defined the referendum. We can expect that their European privileges will be lost, and they will be forced to seek work-permits, and visas, and a minimum income to stay (likely 30,000 pounds a year). They could expect to be deported back to their own countries in certain circumstances.

So what would happen to the two million or so British expatriates living in the EU, and in particular, to those in Spain? Whatever the British Government was to hand out to the Spaniards and their EU brothers, Then Madrid, Paris, Berlin and Sofia would hand out to us. The voters would insist upon it. We aren’t very popular here as it is. We could expect work permits, convertible accounts and so on. We might need to visit the Spanish embassy in London for an extended visa. There would be quite a queue.

Already, we can expect to lose the international health card (the EHIC) and to have our pensions frozen at 2015 levels. Our voting rights in Spain, and anywhere else across the EU, would be lost as well (and the few British councillors in Spanish town halls? Sayonara).

Deportations? There would be a quid pro quo: if the UK sent Spaniards home, then, yes. The electorate here would insist upon it.

We are not liked by the stay-at-home British, being seen as ‘traitors’, and we have no voice, no representation. We are un-persons – without any strength for negotiation for our rights. What rights?  There is neither an office or a spokesperson or even an agency for the expatriates: neither in London, nor in Madrid nor in Brussels. In fact, no one even knows how many we are. The INE claims 270,000 Britons living in Spain, based on the figures from the padrón (the town halls register), but many other sources, such as the consulates or the tourist authorities or the media, go as high as 650,000 or sometimes even 800,000. No one knows (because of course, no one cares). A country like Spain, anal in its statistics and its bureaucracy, knows how many sheep or goats there are across the entire country, because each one has a chip and a bureaucrat to count it. But they don’t know how many we are.

There could be two million Britons living in the EU, now all feeling rather betrayed by their countrymen. Can we rise up and protest? To who – the local mayor?

So what can we do? Keep our heads down and hope for sanity? That rarely works in politics. Perhaps take out Spanish nationality? To do this, we would need to be able to prove that we have spent ten years resident in Spain, speak Spanish and have a good knowledge of current affairs and Spanish culture (there’s a fifty question test). How many of the Brits, drinking beer in their silly fish ‘n chip bars in Fuengirola, could pass these requirements?

Then of course there’s the chance of returning to the UK, either voluntarily or through some imagined deportation. How many of us could afford to buy a home in the UK, or do we think that a grateful government, pleased to see us back, would give us all houses and an income? Not likely. We are all slightly worried that we might end up within a year living in damp Quonset Huts built in haste on Salisbury Plain. You don’t need to be a Rhodesian to know what might happen to an unpopular minority.

While we émigrés may be once more ‘the plaything of the Gods’ (like the many decent Germans in 1929: now, how did that end?), what could happen to Gibraltar? The thirty thousand people living there have already been threatened by Spain’s answer to Nigel Farage, the demagogue García-Margallo, who says on Friday ‘the Spanish flag flying over Gibraltar is closer than ever’.  

What could happen to Spain as this calamity plays itself out? With the price of a holiday suddenly rising by ten per cent or more as the pound plummets, the largest foreign group, the British, which make up over 28% of all foreign tourism in Spain and spent over 14,000 million euros in Spain last year, will start to rethink their vacation plans.

Simon Manley, the British ambassador in Madrid, has sent out a video on Facebook telling us to be calm. Nothing will happen for a year or two, he says. We have residence and rights, he says. Well, do we? The Europeans living in Spain had their residence cards taken by the Interior Minister Pérez Rubalcaba back in 2009 and we were obliged to carry, from that time onwards, our national passport together with a letter from the Ministry (i.e. from the police) that says ‘as a communitarian citizen, the bearer has the right to reside in Spain’. We may have used our Spanish driving licence for an ID, but tell that to the notary or the town hall or the police themselves. Of course, if we Britons are no longer ‘communitarian citizens’, then we (and not Spain) will have broken the arrangement. We will simply be foreigners: in Spain without a residence card.

No comments: