May, Rajoy and ‘Brexpats’

With no shortage of irony, the Parnell Academy in Mijas has set up a ‘Brexpats Spanish Nationality Course’ where they teach how expats can apply to become a Spanish citizen if they don’t much fancy a decade of uncertainty over Brexit.

Cynics might call this a headline gamble to show-up the kindness of Europeans next to the behaviour of the British Government in recent months. This week the UK Government U-turned on its plans to publicise mandatory lists of foreign workers employed in Britain. While the government no doubt presumes this makes this red tape less officious, there’s a sinister quality to keeping files on ‘foreign workers’ locked in a safe somewhere.

Consider too the reports which have surfaced that the UK and Irish Governments have been discussing plans to make Irish ports and airports the EU immigration border. If such a proposal can be agreed to avoid a ‘hard’ border between north and south, it is extremely likely that it will serve as a precedent for Gibraltar and Spain.

The key to this is the Spanish Government. Prime Minister Rajoy has this week embraced the UK Government’s policy of citizens in host countries as a game of quid pro quo. After a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Moncloa Palace issued a statement saying:

“In the same way that Spain is going to defend the interests of Spaniards in the UK, the British who are living in Spain, the millions of tourists who visit Spain and the British companies based here should keep calm.”

Despite the seeming goodwill, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is remarkably vague for something so often cited. It contains four paragraphs which are heavy on the right to divorce the EU, but light on how countries decide who gets the house, the kids and the cat.

Whatever May and Rajoy announce together it is still subject to the final EU-British negotiations. Whether Article 50 is actually triggered in March, as May suggested, remains the most pressing issue.