What a year 2017 has been for British immigrants living in Europe, as well as for those hoping to make a new home in the sun. Since I wrote the first ‘Letter from the Atlantic’ as a newspaper reporter in 2004, so many things have changed. When my partner and I moved to the Costa Blanca, it was a time of great optimism and exciting possibilities. The exchange rate meant that the British living in Europe were getting a very favourable deal. Property prices in Spain were realistic, and for many ordinary people the opportunity of a new life in the sun became a reality and not just a dream.
It was also a time when British entrepreneurs established new and successful businesses in the Costas, and Spain was grateful for the investment and made newcomers welcome. It was a time when it seemed that nothing could halt the enthusiasm of the British for a new life in Spain.
Then there was the financial crash, later to be followed by the EU referendum and what has since become known as ‘Brexit’. Looking back, it should have been obvious that the pound was severely over valued for many years, and that many Brits were living in a ‘fool’s paradise’ that would eventually come to an abrupt end. There was rapid devaluation of house prices, leading to negative equity and financial chaos for many who had over extended themselves when buying a property in Spain. A number of British owned businesses in Spain collapsed, leaving many disillusioned and with little option other than to return reluctantly to the country of their birth.
The result of the referendum, initiated by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, went badly wrong from the point of view of many Brits living in Spain. The result of the referendum was accompanied by a fall in the value of the pound, and left many with a reduction of around 20 per cent of the income that they were used to. Pensioners, and those on a low income were the first to feel the initial impact of the decision to leave the European Union, and for a time it seemed that the rush to leave Britain for a sunnier future had ground to an abrupt halt, as the electorate began to take stock of their new position outside the European Union.
My new book, ‘Living in Spain and the Canary Islands’ goes back to the beginning of the year with a series of letters that reflected and expressed the mood at the time. Confused as to what the future would bring, there were often angry, and sometimes depressed conversations in bars, restaurants and all areas of British social life in Spain and the Canary Islands, which is where I currently live. Estate agents were gloomy and removal companies were reporting a sudden resurgence in business, as many Brits were leaving Spain and heading back to the UK. Of course, many of the elderly and sick could not do this, because they had neither the resources, good health or inclination to deal with what would be for many a traumatic return to life in the UK. I also doubt that many would survive the rapid drop in temperature either.
The political climate is changing once again. As I look back over these turbulent 12 months, I know that many businesses, banks, estate agents and removal companies in Spain are reporting a greater positivity and enthusiasm from those who are still longing to move from the UK to Europe. For many, the EU referendum has confirmed what they already knew; that they are firstly European and not just British. Politically, many dislike what they see as a new anti-European order within the British political establishment and have decided to vote with their feet.
As well as retirees looking to fulfil their dream of heading for a healthier life in the sun, young people are seeing their future as still being part of the bigger European dream. Despite significant changes, there are new realisations for British people hoping to make a new life within a country of their choosing, and not just the territorial constraints created by an accident of birth.
It is true that many of the opportunities and freedoms have narrowed since myself and many others began our new lives in Spain, as well as other parts of Europe. The opportunities provided by the freedom of movement to live and work in any country across this exciting and inspiring continent are the envy of many across the world and should not be lightly overlooked. Life is short; if you have the enthusiasm and the means, my best advice is to grasp every opportunity to ‘live your dream’.
Available in both paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon, Waterstones and all good bookshops.
For more information, go to: http://barriemahoney.com/page/livinginspain.html