How might the UK’s exit from the EU affect British expats – ‘Brexpats’ – in Spain?
Article by International tax barrister Leon Fernando Del Canto, head of Del Canto Chambers, with offices in Spain and the UK.
The legal status of British expatriates remains—and will remain—the same until the London–Brussels negotiations are completed, which will be no later than 2020. Spain has insisted that British expatriates will enjoy the same privileges and rights they have had up until now as EU citizens. Once the U.K. has exited the EU, however, these rights will depend on the agreement that the U.K. comes to with the EU. The sooner the British government engages with specific countries, and in particular embraces a dialogue with Spain, the more likely Brexpats’ rights will be protected once the transition of the U.K. leaving the EU commences.
A two-tiered negotiation to strengthen Anglo-Spanish ties, both in the U.K. and in Spain, would be the best way forward, in the form of:
- The multilateral approach currently in place with all EU countries involved through EU institutions to keep current status under the European Economic Area Treaty; and
- A bilateral approach on a country-by-country basis with Spain to ensure reciprocal privileges are maintained where possible for existing expats.
From a legal and administrative point of view, certain matters will become more complicated—for example, the freedom to establish a residence, the ability to move investments, and to start up a business in Spain, because it will be treated like any other international country. Other aspects like consumer rights, mobile roaming, driving, banking and so on may also differ as the EU regulations will no longer be applicable to Britons.
But the most important area affecting British citizens is the fact that almost 500,000 Britons own property in Spain, and approximately 200,000 Spaniards live in the U.K. Arrangements are being made between the two governments (as well as within the EU) to ensure their rights are not affected, or at least that any adverse effects are minimized in terms of individuals moving between the two countries and establishing their residence from one to the other.
In Spain, British people may see first-hand how the term “British expat,” with its affluent and glamorous connotations, may become “British immigrant.” They may have to apply for long-term visas if they want to live in an EU country once the U.K. has left the bloc, in a similar way that EU citizens must apply for the Indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the U.K.
Although it is not yet clear how the bilateral relationship will evolve, we can anticipate—EU permitting—that the Brexpats will not be treated in a discriminatory way, although some of the benefits applied to EU citizens may no longer be applicable to Britons.