BREXIT - LON­DON CALL­ING

Costa Blanca News (North Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - By Dave Jones djones@cb­news.es

BRI­TISH res­i­dent in Spain Sue Wil­son gave ev­i­dence at last week’s ses­sion of the UK Par­lia­ment’s Com­mit­tee for Ex­it­ing the Euro­pean Union.

The cross-party se­lect com­mit­tee has been set up to look at the rights of EU citizens liv­ing in the UK and UK na­tion­als liv­ing in EU mem­ber states as part of the ne­go­ti­a­tions for ex­it­ing the EU.

Chaired by Labour’s Hi­lary Benn, the ses­sion ex­am­ined the con­cerns of EU citizens liv­ing in the UK and Bri­tish na­tion­als liv­ing in the EU - and what ap­proach the UK gov­ern­ment should take in the ne­go­ti­a­tions to safe­guard their rights.

Mrs Wil­son, who set up the Bre­main in Spain group last year af­ter the UK voted to leave the Euro­pean Union, was in­vited to rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of UK citizens in Spain.

The Valencia re­gion res­i­dent spoke of the need to guar­an­tee ex­pats’ pen­sion rights, stat­ing that this could be done by Theresa May ahead of Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

She also voiced con­cerns about the right of UK citizens to re­main in Spain, the con­tin­u­a­tion of free health­care un­der EU so­cial se­cu­rity ar­range­ments and whether the triple-lock pen­sion ar­range­ment would con­tinue.

Mrs Wil­son urged the gov­ern­ment to guar­an­tee EU citizens’ rights in the UK, which would ide­ally lead to a re­cip­ro­cal ar­range­ment from the EU’s 27 coun­tries.

She said: “Some 108,000 UK pen­sion­ers are liv­ing in Spain. Peo­ple are suf­fer­ing now – with the ex­change rate, con­cerns about health­care and fears about their fu­ture. Many orig­i­nally moved to Spain be­cause it was cheaper to buy prop­erty there. Will they be able to stay, can they af­ford to stay, or will they be forced back to Eng­land? These peo­ple can­not wait 2½ years for a res­o­lu­tion. Theresa May should act uni­lat­er­ally now and en­cour­age other coun­tries to re­cip­ro­cate.”

Costa Blanca News spoke to Mrs Wil­son this week about her trip to Lon­don, where she was one of eight mem­bers of the panel who gave ev­i­dence and an­swered ques­tions.

It must have been an hon­our to rep­re­sent Bri­tish res­i­dents in Spain at this ses­sion of the se­lect com­mit­tee. Do you know how you came to be cho­sen?

We work very closely with a num­ber of groups across Europe, so Bre­main in Spain has be­come quite well known in the com­mu­nity of UK citizens in Europe. I was ap­proached to see if I would be in­ter­ested in sub­mit­ting writ­ten and/or oral ev­i­dence and im­me­di­ately said yes to both. My name was then submitted on a short­list to the se­lect com­mit­tee and I was for­tu­nate enough to be cho­sen. As Spain has the largest num­bers of Brits in the EU, it was fully ex­pected that Spain would be rep­re­sented, but I didn't know that I had been cho­sen un­til just a few days be­fore­hand.

It is very im­por­tant for ex­pats to have a voice in the Brexit process. Do you feel that the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment is se­ri­ous about pro­tect­ing our rights? How high do you think we are on their list of pri­or­i­ties?

I think it is gen­er­ally felt through­out the Bri­tish com­mu­ni­ties in the EU that we are very low on the list of pri­or­i­ties for the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment. We are be­ing treated as bar­gain­ing chips, along with EU citizens in the UK. That's the main rea­son that I wanted to seize the op­por­tu­nity of pre­sent­ing ev­i­dence to the se­lect com­mit­tee. Our writ­ten ev­i­dence in­cluded all the is­sues that we wished to high­light as the ma­jor con­cerns, but also we submitted writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ni­als from mem­bers to il­lus­trate that we are real peo­ple with real prob­lems.

At­ti­tudes to­wards us from the Bri­tish pub­lic gen­er­ally have not been very favourable - we are reg­u­larly told that we made the de­ci­sion to leave so we brought this on our­selves. We have even been called traitors for leav­ing the coun­try and told that we are un­pa­tri­otic. As I pointed out to the se­lect com­mit­tee, we are as Bri­tish and pa­tri­otic as any UK ci­ti­zen in the UK. Un­for­tu­nately, the at­ti­tude of the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has done noth­ing to dis­pel these mis­con­cep­tions, in fact, I think those in gov­ern­ment would agree with them.

You high­lighted the wor­ries and fears of ex­pats dur­ing your ev­i­dence – and the hugely neg­a­tive im­pact for the UK of a mass re­turn of Bri­tons from Europe. What sort of a re­ac­tion did you get from the se­lect com­mit­tee mem­bers?

On the whole, I would say that the Com­mit­tee were broadly sym­pa­thetic to our con­cerns and anx­i­eties, and it was ob­vi­ous from their ques­tions that they had read our writ­ten ev­i­dence in ad­vance. It was also clear that much of what we brought to their at­ten­tion was news to them.

With re­gard to a mass im­mi­gra­tion of Brits to the UK, I'm not sure that they had re­ally un­der­stood in ad­vance how that was a real pos­si­bil­ity, but I think we opened a few eyes and ears, and hope- fully a few hearts and minds. I hope we man­aged to dis­pel the image that we are all on hol­i­day and well off. I pointed out that many are on low in­comes and are very fear­ful for their fu­tures.

The se­lect com­mit­tee will present its find­ings to the De­part­ment for Ex­it­ing the Euro­pean Union. Be­fore this hap­pens will you and other panel mem­bers have an­other op­por­tu­nity to present fur­ther ev­i­dence?

We have al­ready submitted sup­ple­men­tary writ­ten ev­i­dence to them this week, for fur­ther clar­i­fi­ca­tion on points raised last week. We are hop­ing that our at­ten­dance was just the first stage in an on­go­ing re­la­tion­ship with the Com­mit­tee, and that there will be fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­gage with them in the fu­ture.

It will be down to Theresa May’s gov­ern­ment to take into ac­count the se­lect com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tions. In your opin­ion, will they lis­ten, or merely plough on re­gard­less?

The Ex­it­ing the EU Se­lect Com­mit­tee was ap­pointed specif­i­cally to ad­vise and make rec­om­men­da­tions to the De­part­ment for Ex­it­ing the EU. It is un­usu­ally large in that it has 21 mem­bers (Re­main­ers and Leavers). One would hope that all this ex­pense and ef­fort means that the rec­om­men­da­tions are lis­tened to, but we’ll have to wait and see. Cer­tainly we have had ex­cel­lent press cov­er­age, so that will pro­vide ad­di­tional pres­sure for us to be lis­tened to and taken ac­count of.

'Bre­main' Sue

Sue Wil­son has lived in the Valencia re­gion for 10 years.

She is cur­rently project man­ag­ing the ren­o­va­tion of a friend’s house, but spends most of her time cam­paign­ing against Brexit and for the pro­tec­tion of the rights of UK citizens in Spain.

Her hus­band works part­time as a spe­cial­ist IT trainer in the UK.

“We had planned to re­tire this year, but as he is paid in ster­ling, we may have to post­pone those plans due to the 20% re­duc­tion in our in­come due to the loss in the value of the pound,” said Mrs Wil­son.

Sue Wil­son with MP Stephen Dor­rell

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