BRITISH expats are welcome to stay in Spain even if the UK walks away from the European Union without a Brexit deal, says foreign minister Alfonso Dastis.
Uncertainty has dogged the lives of British residents since the historic ‘leave’ vote in the referendum in June last year.
However, Mr Dastis has pledged the Spanish government would ensure the lives of ordinary Brits are “not disrupted” in the event of a ‘no deal’; although he said he hoped agreement was reached between the UK and the 27 other EU members.
Spain is host to the largest population of British expats living in the EU, some 308,805 according to the Office of National Statistics – and more than a third, 101,045 are aged over 65.
And over 17 million British people visit Spain every year; inspiring many to make the country their home.
Negotiations between the UK and the EU have stalled over three issues: the so-called divorce bill, the rights of British citizens living in Europe and EU nationals in Britain, and the Irish border. Trade talks are said to be on ice until there is progress.
Prime Minister Theresa May is under pressure from members of her own party to leave without forging an agreement; allowing Britain to free itself from EU regulations and avoid a financial settlement in a clean Brexit.
Mr Dastis appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show to say: “I do hope there will be a deal. If there is no deal, we will make sure that the lives of ordinary people who are in Spain, the UK people, is not disrupted.
“As you know, the relationship between the UK and Spain is a very close one in terms of economic relations and also social exchanges.
“Over 17 million Brits come to Spain every year and many of them live here or retire here and we want to keep it that way as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, Mrs May has used social media to reassure EU citizens in Britain they will be allowed to stay after Brexit; underlining their rights “remain a priority”.
She said: “When we started this process, some accused us of treating EU nationals as bargaining chips.
“Nothing could have been further from the truth. EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK have made a huge contribution to our country. And we want them, and their families, to stay. I couldn’t be clearer; EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay.”
And the premier hinted that negotiators were close to reaching a deal on the issue of citizens’ rights, with “a small number of important points to finalise” before being able to end the “real anxiety” of people.