I go for my morning walk, my feet heading automatically to the Enchanted Place. The almond blossom is just finishing, and the grass smells fresh. The view is clear, across to the rocky outcrop that so dominates the village, across to our big mountain, with just a touch of snow on its peak, down to the neighbouring village, and back through the frame of the almond trees to the village that I call home. I shake off the worries, the cloud that hangs over, and turn back, retracing my steps and round to the bakery where Gloria puts my bread roll in a bag as I enter, without waiting for me to ask.
February. The skies are blue but indoors it is chilly. I light the fire after lunch and settle down to some Spanish homework. No more exams for me, but I keep going to classes and there’s always more to learn. Suddenly in the Spanish article I’m reading the word referéndum appears and at the same moment a log slips and I jump. I glance out of the window and it seems greyer. The flames flicker but there’s a chill.
On Facebook I click on a group I belong to, of Spanish people living in the UK. At first I joined to help me get used to casual badly-written Spanish, and in case I could help with advice. Now I stay to understand the processes they face, in case we will face something similar here. It seems inhuman, excessively-demanding, and every day on the group there are awful stories of people with 25 years or more in the UK being refused “Settled Status” because they can’t PROVE they have lived there (including someone who has worked consistently for a Local Authority). A few weeks ago the Prime Minister lifted the £65 charge. As so often, she missed the point. The point is that they, like me, moved because they had the right so to do. As long as we met the fairly basic requirements (of working or being self-sufficient) we had the RIGHT to live elsewhere. What the EU citizens in the UK are currently having to do is ASK permission. Permission which can be … and is being … refused, apparently randomly. This small Facebook group of 5,400 Spaniards log on each morning to share their happiness at a successful application, their distress at a refusal, their confusion because applications must be made through an App but it only works on Android phones. The UK’s Home Office trips them up at every turn, and they turn to the group for advice and for solace.
Here in Spain we do the same. Following parliamentary votes, party divisions, British Consulate press releases and online updates. Following them slavishly, following the advice and support groups that exist for British people in each of the EU countries. We all have friends who haven’t quite got all the required paperwork in place, and we worry for them. Those of us with official residency here will have to do what the Spanish in the UK are doing, we will have to ask permission to stay. Can they refuse? Yes, though we obviously hope our adopted host nation continues to be more welcoming to us than the UK is to the Spanish nurses, architects and bar-workers whose right to live there has changed to requesting permission.
I’m out with Pilar and Ana in Málaga. A coffee, a film, drinks and a few tapas. Gossiping, relaxing. They avoid the subject, though they are following it closely too, worried for me.
A couple of weeks ago it was announced that pensioners living in EU countries would only get the normal inflationary uplift one year more, then their pensions would be frozen at that level. Last week it was announced that pensioners living in EU countries were no longer entitled to NHS care if they visited the UK. There is now clarity about the restrictions on people without official residency. All those second-home owners, part-timers, the winter “swallows”, many of them elderly, who sank their savings into their much-loved Spanish holiday-home. 90 days in 180 days, but that’s for the whole Schengen area, not just Spain, so those who liked to take a week or two to drive down, exploring France on the way, will have to start spreadsheets, counting, rationing their days. Their right to spend time in their own home is suddenly restricted, suddenly diminished.
I come out of the oldies’ gym in the village, waving goodbye to the women and jumping in my car to head down the autovía. In Málaga the city is gearing up for Carnaval. The lights are up, large and small stages pop up in the squares and side-streets. The cycle of another year is underway. After Carnaval it’ll be Semana Santa, then feria, and so it goes on. After six years here I still love each of those events. I’d miss them.
It’s not that I won’t be able to stay. I will hand in my little green residency card, that I was so proud of in 2013 when I got it from the police station, and I will ask permission to stay. I have no doubt it will be granted. But I still have to ask permission. They will grant it, I’m sure, but it is not a right any more. So it feels different. It ever so slightly changes everything.
I’m unutterably sad. I know I’m lucky, I know I’m protected from the worst impact. Some of my rights are protected by dint of already being here (though the protections become far fewer if there is no deal, and here we are at forty days and we still don’t know). Others cannot follow us, not so easily, not by right. Back there in the UK the impact will be much greater. I know that. We all do. But right now, as I take a mug of tea up onto the terrace and gaze across the village rooftops, as the countdown clicks down to under forty days, the selfish part of me surfaces. I think about the Home Office refusing permission to Spanish people. I think about a friend here worried about not having residency papers. And another friend whose healthcare needs may cut short his Spanish dream. And I think about needing to ask permission to stay, and about the forthcoming general election here in Spain and I worry about what that might mean for my adopted country but also what it might mean for us third-country immigrants who no longer have rights but must ask permission to stay. Permission to stay at home.
© Tamara Essex 2019 http://www.twocampos.com