EU referendum: Views of UK expats in Spain

By Zoe Conway
Reporter, BBC Radio 4 Today

Ruth and Nigel Stevenson, owners of the Blue Palm cafe
Image caption,
Nigel and Ruth Stevenson are two out of an estimated 309,000 Brits living in Spain.

It was ten years ago that Ruth and her husband Nigel packed up their life in London and bought the Blue Palm cafe in Marbella.

It was easy to do she says, because of Britain being inside the European Union. She has already sent off her postal vote: she voted to stay in.

It wasn't just the weather that made the Stevensons leave the UK.

Their cleaning business was in trouble because it was being undercut by companies run by Polish migrants.

'Too easy for too long'

But so what, Nigel says. He thinks British people need to ''up their game'' and stop complaining about immigration.

''They have had it too easy for too long'', he says. Nigel will also be voting for Remain.

Sit on the sea wall by their café and you'll struggle to hear much Spanish conversation. Almost everyone walking by is either a British tourist or resident.

There are 309,000 Brits registered as having residency in Spain but there are likely to be many thousands more living here for just part of the year.

Image caption,
The Spanish would not dare make it harder for Brits, says Mark Connor

Sat at one of the café's tables is Scotsman Mark Connor. A singer and radio DJ, he performs at a nearby Irish bar.

He has been paying close attention to the referendum debate and is annoyed by some of the arguments being put forward by the Remain side.

In particular he is irritated at the suggestion that if Britain leaves, the Spanish government could make it harder to live and work here.

The Spanish wouldn't dare make it harder for Brits he says because they contribute so much to the economy.

'"The pensioners have their own UK pensions so they're not a drain on the state," Mark tells me.

"And then there are all the well-off Brits living up in the hills and down at the marina, are you seriously telling me that the Spanish are going to get rid of them? I don't think so."

'The expats struggling to vote'

Media caption,
Many expats are struggling to decide which way to vote, as Gavin Lee reports.

'Little Britain'

A few miles away is a community known as Little Britain. It is not hard to understand why.

There is a fish and chip shop, British Butcher's, Chinese and Indian Restaurants, an Iceland close by, and of course, full English Breakfasts a-go-go. At its heart is the Benavista Bowls Club.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Costa del Sol is one of the most popular destinations for Brits who move to Spain.

Almost all of the club's 150 members are British and they are mostly retired.

There has been speculation that they could be hit financially, that their UK pensions could be frozen because that is what has happened to expats in some non-EU countries.

Largest number of Brits living in EU countries, according to Migration Watch.

  • Spain - 309,000
  • Ireland - 255,000
  • France - 185,000
  • Germany - 103,000
  • Netherlands - 50,000

There have also been warnings that the Spanish government could start charging them for their healthcare.

Speaking to members after the match it was striking how many wanted to get out of the EU and how few had thought about how they might be affected financially.

'They'll sort something out'

Whilst one couple worried about their pensions, the others did not seem particularly bothered about being charged for health care; almost all of them had private health insurance.

John Richardson, summed up the mood best. ''Oh, they'll sort something out''.