Spanish exploitation of Brexit bureaucracy sparks British expats to flee back to UK

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Despite the invaluable contribution the UK’s estimated 360,000 expats make to the country’s economy, Spain has been accused of exploiting Brexit red tape and sending people packing. Michel Euesden, who runs the Euro Weekly newspaper in Fuengirola, said that “removal companies have never been busier”.

The flight of Britons came after post-Brexit rules limited stays of 90 days within every 180 days.

And anyone wishing to become a resident will have to prove earnings of £2,000 a month plus £500 more for each dependent.

UK driving licences are no longer valid indefinitely – requiring people to take a test in Spanish.

Instead of waiving the rules and making life easier for the country’s UK expat community – which is said to contribute more than £15bn to its economy – Spain has stuck steadfastly to Brussels’ bureaucracy.

And this will only leave it poorer, if the numbers of expats returning to the UK since the Brexit transition period ended continues to swell.

Ms Euesden, originally from Rochdale, told the Sunday Times: “Every removal company across this coast has told our team they’ve never seen a situation like this.

“It’s the first time in 25 years since we started the paper here that we’ve seen removal companies fully booked going out and coming back in.”

Daphne Vallins, 64, has returned from southern Spain to live with her mother in Leatherhead, Surrey.

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She told the paper: “I did not want to apply for residence status.

“It would mean paying £100 a month in private health insurance, changing my UK driving licence into a Spanish one and having to pay my taxes in Spain.”

As well as permanent residents, there are estimated to be between 800,000 and a million Britons with a second home in Spain.

This number could fall significantly as Spain wields the extra powers that Brexit has handed it to make the lives of Brit expats more difficult.

The issue has also split the expat community – with some claiming that voices on either side of the argument can come to blows.

Mark Sampson, a former bar owner and fervent Brexiteer, said: “I get remainers trying to tell me their arguments.

“I’ve had a few shouting at me in bars.

“I am 6ft tall and 20 stone so no one’s going to take me on in a fight, but if they want to talk about Brexit, I give them both barrels.”

The main British enclaves along the “Costas” have had large expat populations for decades – long before freedom of movement was introduced.

But since the 2016 referendum their numbers have fallen.

The number of Britons registered as resident in Spain has fallen by 20,000 to 262,885 since the Brexit vote.

An even greater number are thought to have taken advantage of the EU’s freedom of movement to live in Spain without registering.

Many of them are also thought to have returned to the UK.

There has also been a shift in the age range of expats, locals revealed.

Traditionally Spain was seen as a place that people retired to.

But increasingly younger people, who can often work remotely because of Covid, are being drawn to the country.

Expat Tracy Turnero Sheehan told the BBC: “We have traditionally been a community here of expats who are on average 50-plus.

“Last year it changed, and the average age was 45.

“If you come over in 12 months, it’ll be more like an average age of 35.”

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