BREXIT - LONDON CALLING
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.
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