Boris, Brexit and Britons in Spain

Boris Johnson, with his straw-blonde hair and instant name recognition, is now the de facto leader of the campaign to leave the European Union.

A former Eton schoolmate and long-time rival of David Cameron, the Mayor of London and MP is unique in being culturally formed by strong European antecedents all while rejecting the EU: he was educated in Brussels, covered the European Commission as a journalist and has English, Russian, Swiss, Turkish and French ancestry (the latter which links him to most of Europe’s royal families).

If Cameron loses to a Brexit vote then, as surely as if he’d lost the Scottish independence vote, his position as PM would become untenable. Johnson’s public profile (or ‘Boris’, thanks chiefly to his repeated Have I Got News for You appearances) means he could tip the balance in the EU debate and might very well succeed Cameron before 2020.

There is, however, a lingering suspicion that Johnson may be playing politics with his Brexit support given that Sonia Purnell’s 2011 biography claimed friends said he was sympathetic to European federalism. So if his Vote Leave endorsement is a populist ploy to assume the premiership, does it make a difference for the 319,000 British expats living and working in Spain?

Even with a political severance from the EU, expats would gain international property and individual rights under the Vienna Convention of 1969. This might preclude land grabs but, depending on how vindictive the Spanish government feels, could mean higher taxes for property owners. This might also extend to EU healthcare and benefits, but given that expats have to pay their own way in host taxes anyhow the change would likely be negligible.

Where the plot thickens is for future expats. After Britain has left the ability to live and work in Spain will depend on the new agreements the Johnson government negotiates. What should be the measure of Johnson, however, is this: whatever Spain does to British citizens, Johnson could enforce the same conditions for the estimated 150,000 Spanish living in the UK.

Over Christmas, Johnson visited the Alhambra and concluded that the Moorish palace was a reminder of the artistic accomplishments of ancient Islam and the historical diversity of Spain. Given Johnson’s rhetoric and history, a commitment to cultural ties over the bureaucracy of Europe seems likely.

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