Friday, 5 July 2019

Latest research on the attitudes to Brexit of Brit residents in Alicante province, Spain

Report on British residents in Alicante and Brexit

March and April 2019 Jeremy MacClancy carried out research, funded by Oxford Brookes, into the attitudes towards Brexit held by British residents in Alicante. He managed to interview 28 Brits, both Remainers and Leavers. 

May that year he returned to Alicante and gave a public talk on his results. His interviewees, local academics and students, journalists, and representatives of the British Consulate, Alicante were all invited. About 30 people attended; about 12 of them were Jeremy's interviewees. 

It was particularly valuable for him to receive comments on the report by the interviewees: as much as possible, Jeremy wanted the work to be collaborative, and for those who participated in the research to be able to remark on it, and prevent what they might have regarded as misrepresentations. Jeremy is pleased to say that the interviewees who attended were generally supportive of the report and only suggested minor changes. 

After the public talk, Jeremy, held a lunch in the restaurant of the University of Alicante for the attending interviewees, and two social scientists from UA. This was an excellent opportunity for Jeremy to receive any, more informal comments on his work. 

Afterwards, he disseminated his report to the British Consulate, and to Costa Blanca News and Informacion, the main provincial Alicantine newspaper. The Vice-Consul, Sara Munsterhjelm, replied that the report had been 'interesting and engaging': the section of the report on the reasons why some British residents do not register in the municipality where they live was of 'use as it backs up what we already believe to be true, which is that tax is the main deciding factor'. Summarising, she said the report provided 'useful background information and backs up our understanding of the way British nationals behave'.

Jeremy and Fiona are now writing up their material on British residents in Alicante and southwest France as a comparative analysis, to be published as a book late 2020. Both remain very grateful for all the support they have received from their interviewees and grant-givers. 


The report: 

Past perfect, present tense, future conditional?
Brexit and British residents in Spain

Jeremy MacClancy
April 2019

March-April 2019 I spent in Alicante province, SE Spain, interviewing 28 long-term residents from the British Isles. This is the latest stage in my continuing research into the political beliefs and behaviour of British residents in the area. I work in liaison with Fiona Ferbrache, a rural geographer at Oxford University, who carries out similar research in rural southwestern France. Ferbrache and I have studied the political activity of British residents on town-councils, and in anti-Brexit campaign groups, both on- and offline. Neither of us had yet studied the positions held by British residents in general towards Brexit, both at the time of the referendum and today. This report is an attempt to plug that gap. Ferbrache and I plan to produce a comparative Hispano-French analysis of the political behaviour of Britons in both countries, to be published as a short book next year.  

Method among the madness
I strove to contact as many British residents as possible, and so tried all the channels I could think of.
Costa Blanca News kindly agreed to include an informative paragraph by me stating my aims and requesting interviewees. This led to a few interviews. Since I’ve had a rural retreat in the interior of the province for the last 15 years, I spoke to English-speaking friends I already have in the area. They all agreed to be interviewed. One friend teaches yoga, whose classes I attend: this led to some interviews. In a nearby housing estate, dominated by Britons and north Europeans, I put up posters in both its bars and joined the Facebook discussion group for English-speakers, where I also posted my plea: its coordinator and spouse agreed to my interview, but no one else. One friend suggested I contact a resident who acted as a block-email disseminator to several hundred residents in southern Alicante and Murcia. This led to over a dozen interviews. The British Vice-Consul emailed for me a local contact who had access to Britons living in Benidorm caravan parks. I did not subsequently hear from the contact. I toured all the caravan and camping sites I could find in Benidorm (seven) and in Villajoyosa (three), having posters about my work put up. This led to no responses. A town-councillor whose portfolio included liaising with British residents block-emailed them on my behalf. I have so far received no replies.
The sum result was that I spoke with six couples, one couple with their adult son, and thirteen other residents. One interviewee, a British citizen, was born in France but brought up in the UK from an early age. One couple were Irish but were strongly recommended to me because the wife was well-known in their area as the energetic organiser of events bringing together foreign residents and local natives. Geographically all bar one lived in the Alicantine interior; several had initially resided on the coast, but moved inland because of the number of tourists and many things which came in their train: higher prices, rowdiness, drunkenness, drugs, etc.  All interviewees, bar the adult son in his early twenties, were in their late forties or above; three were in their late seventies. The British press often portray compatriots in Spain as almost exclusively elderly retirees who do not work, with a sprinkling of adult offspring who serve drinks in bars: for instance, the 2018 Guardian video-newsclip about those in Orihuela Costa, a very large estate in southern Alicante. This representation is more caricature than portrait. Among those I interviewed, about a third were employed; another third (of whatever age) worked part-time; the others were full-time retired.
I accept that my range of interviewees is limited in demographic, geographic, and occupational terms. All, bar one, were at least middle-aged, and lived inland, in their own houses, not in blocks of flats. Their past occupations in the UK were diverse: from director of a conglomerate to teacher of English, from insurance broker to petrol tank driver. But none had held unskilled positions in the UK, nor did any hold them in Spain.
I also worked my way through all the conversational threads on Brexit in the Facebook group I joined. All personal names and place-names are pseudonyms.

Why ‘Bye-bye Blighty’? Why Spain? Why this province?
Most stated they left Britain because they disliked its contemporary development. ‘By the time I left, England was not the country I was born in, brought up in, or worked in’, said one. Specific reasons included: a retired couple spoke of a growing sense of hostility in urban centres; a homeowner, who had been taunted by teenage neighbours, protested the law sided with burglars; a pair of ex-teachers had perceived a narrowing of educational vision, with too much emphasis on exams; the former owner of a high-street business complained about the increasing length of red-tape. Several wondered if they would now fit in, should they have to go back. I was told of one couple who did return because of ill-health, but came back after two years, as they’d disliked contemporary Britain so much. In other words, almost all interviewees expressed dissatisfaction to some degree with the UK; as a place to live, Spain seemed a better bet.
            Most said they had come to Spain because the climate was milder and usually warmer; the country was only a short plane-flight away from Britain, enabling easy return if need be; and—crucially important for those surviving on their pensions and/or part-time jobs--a better standard of living was possible as the cost of living was lower compared to the UK. Their days were more tranquil, and they had a better social life. As one female entrepreneur, who had felt overburdened by British business bureaucracy, said to me, ‘What’s the point of having kids if you can’t spend time with them?’
            Several underlined their love of Spain as a major reason for immigration. They praised as highly as they could various aspects: Spanish culture, its literature, music and art, its way of life, its sense of family, community, religion, its food, its landscape, the light late in the day. Spaniards were thought nicer, friendlier than, for example, French or Italians. One, an interior designer, said, ‘I feel a real affinity with the Spanish people, their mañana mentality, with everything about the country.’ One artist, bored with ‘90s London, was attracted by the slightly anarchistic feel, the rawness he thought Madrid had at the time. Francis Bacon, in a chat at the Colony Club, Soho, had persuaded him that the capital ‘was more 24 hours than New York’, as he later found.
            All interviewees, bar one, lived away from the coast. They chose the province because the Costa Brava (north of Barcelona) and the Costa del Sol (centred around Malaga and Marbella) were too expensive, and too noisy. Several at first lived on the Alicantine coast but moved inland after some months or a few years: they found the littoral towns too full of tourists; it was too easy to spend one’s time exclusively with other Brits, and very easy to drink too much. There were too many drugs, and burglaries. The beauty of the piedmontese landscape appealed to many; one said he had chosen the Alicantine interior as a WHO study claimed it was the best place for human habitation thanks to its climate, air quality, and altitude. Most lived in detached houses near a town, some on estates, and a few were off-grid in the countryside. All resided within a half-hour drive from an international airport.
The great majority appeared satisfied with the fullness of their lifestyles: socialising, physical activities (walking, walking the dogs, gardening, exercise classes, swimming, cycling, etc.), and organising or participating in communal events, e.g. organised walks and picnics, low-intensity sports (petanque, darts, pool), ‘Moors and Christians’ fiestas, choral singing, amateur dramatics, a Facebook discussion group, an annual village panto, in English. As one said, ‘We get involved in any village activity we can’. Many owned dogs, chosen from the municipal pound; a good number of them volunteer in the shelters or promote canine charities. Cheap but good restaurants meant many can afford to lunch out frequently, which they couldn’t in the UK. A few noted their collective presence maintained or boosted commercial activity in the area: one had set up a beauty salon, another a gym; several worked as teachers of English, and some individuals as masseur, personal trainer, athletics coach, yoga teacher, travel-writer, sculptor, arts therapist. One had made month-long stints in the UK as a live-in carer, and knew of at least five women in her town doing the same. Some expressed pride that their children had helped keep local schools open. In one town, several mentioned to me a charity shop, run by a Briton, whose profits funded the panto and kept seven local, Spanish families out of extreme poverty.  
            In sum, all were well aware they enjoyed a better standard of life in Spain. Most could afford a bigger house than they could have had in the UK; the others could not have bought a house at all in Britain. Food, medicines and many utilities were cheaper, municipal taxes lower; there were more hours of sun, and speedier access to health services, of very good quality. Most were socially active and, indirectly or directly, contributed to local services. No one expressed regret at coming to Spain. I interviewed a self-confessed quasi-hermit who lived an unhealthy existence in idiosyncratic conditions, and another resident, approaching their eighties, who was bed-ridden at the time: neither wished to go back. Their home was Spain and they did not lament that.

Brexit: opposed logics
All interviewees had a clear opinion about Brexit. No one was undecided. All were either Leavers or Remainers, and almost all of them stressed they held to their position without any qualifications whatsoever. Of the 26 Britons interviewed, 20 voted for or supported Remain, 6 were for Leave.
The reasons Remainers gave for voting Remain may be grouped as (a) familial, (b) international trade, (c) belief in larger units, (d) belief in the EU as a beneficial organisation to be a member of, (e) identity.
Familial: several said they voted Remain, because they thought of their adult children in the UK and their future prospects, especially offspring who ran their own businesses. They judged Brexit would endanger their profitability, and maybe their survival.
Trade:  several worried about the effect of Brexit on commerce. One argued that so much trade today was international, but one couldn’t think that the pattern of British trade after leaving the EU would be similar to that previous to entering it. Workers would lose out: ‘They’re unaware of what’ll hit them’. A former accountant said she was concerned about the size of the UK as a commercial unit. ‘If the EU was a company, England would be just a subsidiary, with nothing to gain by leaving; only by staying and trying to change it.’ Post-Brexit, companies would move away, saying, ‘What the hell am I doing in this little country not backed by the EU?’
Belief in larger units: worries about the comparative size of the UK went beyond the economic. Several argued that the larger the group, the better. There was greater chance of successful defence of group interests, and representativeness.  One couple stated it was good having lots of people behind the creation of regulation: ‘The wider you go the more representative you can be.’ Several linked belief in bigger units with conviviality, underpinning that link by the general aim of moving towards a greater, more harmonious whole. ‘We ought to work towards a world where we all work together. With more tolerance and greater understanding.’
Belief in the EU as a beneficial organisation to be a member of: if one follows the logic that the success of larger units is grounded on the laudable goals of conviviality and harmony, then Britain needs the EU more than the Union needed the UK:
‘It’s time for Britain to remain a member of the community it has chosen to be with. I don’t think you can go it alone today. Britain needs to broaden its vision. . .It needs to accept other cultures. . .It’s good that Britain becomes more multicultural. . . Changes in London over the last sixty years are for the better; it’s more cosmopolitan today. This is good as Britain is less of a world power, and can accept others’
For several, conviviality and harmony in broader units, multicultural ones, dovetailed with mobility for all across the Union: being able to decide where to live in Europe was ‘a more exciting possibility’ than having to remain in one country. All interviewees were by definition migrants, and some saw the flipside to British emigration—immigration into the UK—as an economic benefit of being in the EU: ‘the infrastructure, the grants, the agriculture, the jobs the English don’t want to do. How is the NHS going to survive?’ Harmonious conviviality and general mobility, whether of emigration or immigration, fed off one another: thanks to the new freedom for EU members to wander around its territory, ‘people were gelling’. Enabling easy movement between countries both demonstrated and served as a reminder that ‘This world belongs to us all.’
Any large organisation has its downsides. Four interviewees acknowledged the EU did not work perfectly, and two of them admitted they supported Remain, purely for reasons of self-interest: for one, the EU was ‘making so much out of England’; another worried about the power of lobbies. But none of them saw imperfection as a reason for exit, rather for internal reform. Moreover, remaining in the EU was a powerful guarantee for peace, which had been maintained since WWII, the longest period without war on the Continent in centuries. In sum, as one put it, it was ‘much more healthy to be part of Europe’. In the words of another, the EU functioned well: ‘Why spoil something when it’s working?’
Identity:  all interviewees identified as British. But several expressed that was not their exclusive, nor predominant mode of identification. They said they were not British and nothing but British. One had ‘always felt more European than British, which had past its days of glory’. Another had always seen herself as European rather than British. Her parents had been active in the twin-towns initiatives, so had toured much of the Continent as a child. She now classed herself ‘a citizen of the world’. For some Remainers, the result of the referendum and the subsequent debate shattered core beliefs about their home country, exposing them as illusions. ‘I thought I knew what England was about. Now I don’t’. ‘Please stop it. It’s breaking my heart.’
The reasons Leavers gave for voting Leave may be grouped, in a strikingly similar fashion, as (a) trade, (b) belief in smaller units, (c) belief in the EU as a damaging organisation to be a member of, (d) identity.
Trade: two said the British economy would not crash. They acknowledged ‘bumps’ in the first EU-free years, but affirmed the country’s economy would emerge as strong as ever. The war years had demonstrated the English were ‘very good at austerity’. The City of London would continue to be a European centre of finance because it was too well-established. After all, England had been trading for a thousand years before joining the EU. One admitted membership of the EU did benefit trade, ‘but they’ll be there anyway’.
Belief in smaller units: one said he always believed in running one’s own show, whether it be household or country. Charity began at home, he stated, before damning Cameron’s ring-fencing of British international aid. This inward-facing dovetailed with another’s view that England had done ‘too much for people coming into the country’, over-generosity leading to an overburdened NHS. One Leaver used the village he lived in to argue this upholding of lesser groups:
Pueblo del Moro wants to be Pueblo del Moro. Its people want to retain autonomy. They don’t need anyone else. Without identity they’re awash, they’re nothing. The EU brings a conformity they don’t embrace, attitudes they don’t follow.
On this logic, expanding the Union, another contended, towards the East was mistaken: ‘Their customs and traditions didn’t mix with the EU. Though the EU was trying to make it happen, they couldn’t.’
Belief in the EU as a damaging organisation to be a member of: for Leavers the EU had become a corrupt operation of unelected but powerful bureaucrats who wasted money yet never got their accounts signed off. Freedom of movement was a fine principle, but not if it let refugees in, or allowed ‘terrorists and Islamic fundamentalists’ to travel without hindrance. In the pithy phrase of one, the Union was by now ‘the longest exercise in collective stupidity’.
Identity: A former soldier turned successful businessman said he, his father, grandfather and other family members had all fought for their country. To him, sovereignty was sacrosanct, his number one, but it’d now gone. Millions had fought and died for British sovereignty; but, as two Leavers stressed, Britons were not federalists.

Brexit: the result, and the resulting cross-fire
For some Remainers, the very idea of a referendum was a mistake. One ‘thought it was a joke. The Government should sort it out amongst themselves.’ Another was ‘shocked and appalled it was even being considered’. But the effect of the referendum result was even greater, for many. They expressed their reaction as radical ‘disbelief’, ‘stunned’, ‘absolutely dumbfounded’, ‘shocked’, ‘bloody silly’, ‘mesmerised’, and so on. Several stated they felt sick, cried, or burst into tears. One Leaver perceived the day differently: ‘Almost everyone shocked. But many of them said, “Good!”’ 
It is easy to exaggerate. It makes for a neater, more dramatic picture. For not all were so emotionally struck by the vote. Some had a much more distanced view: ‘It was a bit of a surprise. . . Some people got very anxiously excited.’ For one townsdweller, ‘There was a lot of shock, but not much reaction. The pueblo was tranquilo.’
Several said they’d been surprised by the way some friends had voted. They quickly learnt to keep their opinions to themselves, for at least a year after the referendum. One Remainer learnt he ‘had to avoid the subject’, in case he was talking with a ‘rabid Brexiteer’. Another stated people did not mention it in discussions. They didn’t ‘wish to make a big thing out of it’. A third said of his local acquaintance, ‘The English people I know here don’t discuss Brexit much at all.’ But discussions were rekindled once scare stories started to appear in the press: what would happen to their pensions, their access to healthcare; would they need to obtain a residence permit, a Spanish driving licence? 
 We should expect those on either side of the Brexit divide to exaggerate or lampoon the attitudes of the other side. This is common in meetings between people with very different visions of the world (Boon 1983). Here, the relevant question is in what terms they characterise those in the opposite corner. In interviews, Remainers crabbed, in particular, Leavers’ view of history, their idea of Great Britain, and the sources of their views, while Leavers criticised Remainers, above all, as ill-informed.
Some Remainers criticised some Leavers as people who ‘still think we have loads of gunboats; some in their 80s are thinking in terms of the past century.’ These Remainers saw Leavers’ view of Brexit as a ‘retrogressive step, going back to a time no longer existing’. Moreover, as one underlined, Leavers’ historical memory was very selective: ‘Leavers have forgotten the state of England at the time of entry to the EU’: the 3-day week, devaluation only a few years before, the UK was ‘the poor man of Europe’. One summed up Leavers’ attitudes as ‘Britain’s best, no matter what happens.’ Several Remainers pinned their hopes on the younger generation, for whom the Second World War was unlived history.
Several were unhappy by Leavers’ lack of consideration for national diversity, both ethnic and geographic. In their opinion, Brexit had given not just the far right, but a broader swathe of people permission to air ‘xenophobic nastiness.’ Some confessed to being ‘very upset by the racial hatred Brexit has excited’. Two interviewees also referred to the effect of Brexit on sub-units of the country. Both spoke of Northern Ireland: ‘What really galls me is the total disregard for the. . .border. . .A hard border again: it doesn’t bear thinking about.’ One pointed out that Leavers made no mention of Scots’ views.
Many Remainers saw themselves as informed, and Leavers as ignorant. One complained about a couple of in-laws who had voted Leave because of two television programmes they’d watched: ‘They’d not thought further than their nose. “Rule Britain” shit,’ which at root she suspected racist. Another said Leavers talked about regaining sovereignty, but did not provide the evidence.  Informed Leavers were crabbed as not thinking the issues through: to some Remainers, Leavers had not considered what life would be like for their grandchildren; also, they failed to value easy movement within Europe. On listening to one Leaver couple, one Remainer despaired, ‘Why are you here? Why not go back to England?’  
            Some interviewees made the more general, less caustic point that people, of whatever stripe, were more ignorant at the time of the referendum. ‘No one knew what would happen.’ They blamed the government for lack of voter education. Of course the underlying implication for Remainers of the economic forecasting studies produced since the referendum is that Leavers, not Remainers, would change their minds. I found no evidence of this.
Some Leavers were similarly critical of ‘Remoaners’. One declared that the only reason some residents had opted for Remain was that they were frightened. But, as another put it, worry about losing pensions and healthcare cover was ‘arrogant nonsense’ fanned by ‘fear-mongers’: the Spanish Government did not want to lose a significant sub-population which maintained so many local jobs. ‘Brexit bad for the economy? That was said by people who didn’t understand economics.’
            Several Remainers aimed their ire, not at Leavers, but at government, Leave campaign leaders, and the newspapers. These critics blamed a generation of governing parties, of whatever colour, for using the EU as a scapegoat. Whenever a political decision was unliked, they said, politicians blamed it on EU regulations, if they could. In Spain when a construction or road-building project was part-funded by the EU, that fact was displayed boldly on large billboards: in the UK, the same sign would make no reference to the Union. And, for these Remainers, this sustained sidelining or damning of the EU prevented pro-Remain politicians from praising the Union for the ways its work had benefited Britain. Some stressed the manipulative, lying style of Leave politicians: the result was ‘the knee-jerk reaction of voters pushed by people with their own agendas, thinking of their own pockets.’ Many also blamed the press, especially the tabloids. One, who lived on the coast, singled out the very anti-Brexit position adopted by the Daily Mail while under the editorship of Paul Dacre. They then pointed out to me how easily it outsold all other British newspapers in his littoral area. One interviewee expressed their surprise to me:  they ‘could not imagine English people could be so stupid, or easily manipulated’.
            In these atmosphere of mutual recrimination, how did those couples whose partners voted in opposite ways cope? One Leaver said ‘It’s not a great discussion point. I just don’t watch the news anymore.’ Another, whose live-in child and their spouse were Remainers, stated, ‘They don’t talk about it.’ One stressed it was important to place the topic within broader contexts, to downplay the matter. In the words of one spouse, ‘Jeremy! There’s wine to drink! Coffee to be had! Life to be lived!’
If, in social encounters, partisans of both sides choose to stay mum on the topic unless with known co-believers, it’s on the web that the vitriol can become plainer. In the mildly regulated environment of the Internet, where interaction is still speedy, but not face to face, some residents choose to state bluntly what they feel about supporters of the opposite party. Several residents said to me they had, by mistake, joined a discussion group supporting the opposed side to them. The number of abusive posts they soon received was so great they quickly left: ‘I was getting endless emails calling me “Thick” and stuff like that.’ The coordinator for the Facebook group I joined said the volume of posts about Brexit became so large, and the tone of many so charged, that she felt obliged to siphon off the topic into a separate sub-group. In this e-forum, people appeared to speak more freely than my interviewees had done. Some Leavers openly criticised the number of immigrants--‘changing the genetic make up of the UK for ever’ (in a UKIP Warwick poster put up by a Leaver)-- and their supposed ability to claim benefits. They also questioned the democratic nature of a second referendum: ‘You can’t move the goalposts just cos you lost. Suck it buttercup.’ In response, Remainers stated Leavers did not distinguish between asylum seekers and migrants, whether legal or illegal. One lamented that he had ‘found out that a lot of people in the UK are racist, which is a shame’. Some stressed the age profile, and thus claimed lack of representativeness, of Leavers, ‘foaming through their clenched dentures’. They also repeatedly queried what kind of United Kingdom Leavers wanted, given their lack of concern for the future of Northern Ireland and Scotland, as though they were true ‘Little Englanders’, as that would be about all they would be left with: ‘And they have the cheek to call Remainers “traitors”’.  
Leavers and Remainers were at least on the same Facebook page: they did hold some things in common: upholders of either side claimed those of the other used ‘lies’ to make their case. Some also branded their opponents as ‘ignorant’, substituting ‘derisory drivel’ for factual evidence. Both accused the other of unreality: ‘the mentality of the Brexiters is beyond reason’; guilty of a ‘mass delusion’, they ‘voted for a mythical creature—the unicorn’ and acted like latter-day Flat Earthers. One Leaver accused a fervent Dutch Remainer of not being fully conscious: ‘Yaaawwwwwwn, Dirk, wake up and smell the coffee.’ And again, there was the occasional desire to retain balance. When one Leaver openly despaired at the continuing negotiations, a Remainer neighbour posted, ‘Don’t let it get you down. . .Do what I’ve done tonight, I’ve barbecued, had a good bottle of wine all for under £10. Forget Brexit for a few hours and remember the good days.’

Brexit: the future
No interviewee, whether Leaver or Remainer, said that Brexit had changed their minds about going back. None on either side expressed any desire to leave Spain. Some were adamant: ‘This is my home.’ ‘Nothing would make me go back to England. I feel comfortable and at home here. There are no instances under which I’d go back’. One had turned down an offer from his sibling to join him in Kuala Lumpur: ‘I would not be better off living anywhere else.’ Another gave a more individual response, ‘Yes, stay 100%, because I want to marry a Spaniard.’
Indeed, many stated Brexit had only reinforced their determination to stay put. Some Remainers argued against return because, ‘’Brexit has so polarised the population’, as well as increasing levels of racism and bigotry, along with a notable decline in compassion. ‘Why go back? There’s so much hatred, pollution, and crappy weather.’  A few said that, if forced to leave, instead of returning to the UK, they would move to another warm, cheap country: Thailand, the Philippines, for instance. They had realised the benefits of cheap living in sunny climes and were not going to surrender those easily. They would rather become serial transnationals than reluctant returnees.
The only reasons, people stated, which would oblige them to return to the UK were all financial: if their pensions were frozen or stopped; if they lost free access to healthcare services, or had to make hefty monthly payments for them to the state, with the cost of prescriptions on top of that; if the exchange rate fell to low. If necessary, many stated, they were ready to forfeit British nationality for the sake of gaining Spanish residence. ‘We’ll do whatever it takes’, said one couple, in uncharacteristic unity. Only one interviewee bluntly affirmed they would never consider it.

Brexit: what chance of a dialogue?
In an attempt to summarise, without over-generalising too much, we could say that Remainers had an expansive, forward-facing vision of the world, one whose populations were or should be members of the largest groups possible. Members of these groups would strive to embody a pervasive conviviality and harmony. The EU (the group including the English) would be structured by a creative multiculturalism within an ambience of productive tolerance. Further, Remainers recognised they were British, but this was neither their sole nor most significant mode of identification.
In sharp contrast, Leavers saw themselves as upholders of representative democracy framed by a relatively small, once homogenous unit with a strong economy. Its continued existence was partly justified by those who had died for it. To a significant extent, their vision was inwardly focused and retrospective, of a stable society whose members could recognise one another as fellow nationals in a relatively unproblematic manner, and who had all contributed equally to the commonwealth, according to their means. For Leavers, being British was by far the most important group identity they upheld, beyond that of their individual families. 
If we compare the two groups, members of each uphold a certain vision of the world, as it is or should be. Both visions are undergirt by abstract conceptions and principles, but by different ones: expansiveness vs. centripetality, multiculturalism vs. cultural coherence, forward-looking vs. historically grounded, unrestricted mobility vs. relative stability, globally-oriented vs. Anglocentricity.
Members of both sides were united in the centrality of the Brexit process, though they evaluated it in opposed manners. They implicitly agreed that this debate was one worth arguing, that it was an opportunity to stake out one’s principles. Leavers and Remainers were also united in their condemnation of the parliamentary proceedings over Brexit. Leavers appeared particularly disappointed: ‘Why this dealing? I thought we just wanted to leave. Negotiations to try to get a good deal? Bit of a cheek, I thought.’ Some, on either side, thought the Brexit debate so complex, so detailed that it was unsuited for a referendum. A national question this convoluted was best worked through by those employed full-time to consider them. Hence their particularly embittered disappointment MPs appeared to be more concerned with infighting and scoring points than resolving the key issues.
Within both camps, some grounded their views on the fact Britain was an island. The geographic metaphor was common, but those on each side worked it in their own way. Some Remainers saw this positively, e.g., ‘We are always English. We have always had sovereignty. We are an island, therefore difficult to take over, so it can’t be more over-run by migrants.’ Others saw it negatively: ‘Britain is a stupid. . .island out in the Channel: but it needs Europe to be something, desperately’. One Leaver argued in terms of size: Britain was too ‘small’ to accommodate further incomers, and therefore should not be so ‘generous’ to migrants. One Remainer summed up the difference between sides in islandly terms: Leavers, ‘island mentality’; Remainers, ‘gypsy pirates mentality’; i.e., nationally fixed vs. transnationals; homebound vs. voyagers; those who stayed on their ground vs. those open to new winds.
At the same time, geography was a potential cause for confusion on both sides. Almost all Remainers and Leavers referred in our discussions to ‘England’, as though it were equivalent to ‘Great Britain’, even in the midst of this fractious debate about national destination. For them the regions of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were not important fractions of the national whole, whose geographically-framed opinions on Brexit might well be significantly different. Even a Scots Leaver I spoke with did not bother to make this distinction, as though the issue overrode important nationalist aspirations. One interviewee, in her late sixties, argued that this elision of the two terms was a consequence of their upbringing: it was only in the last decade, with the ascendancy of Scots nationalism within its homeland, that the distinction had become important. There was similar confusion with ‘Europe’. As much a political as a geographical term, Europe is the only continent which is not a separable landmass: Its eastern border is conventionally taken as the Ural Mountains, to the east of Moscow. Europe, as well as its mainland, includes Iceland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the Canaries, an archipelago which is geologically part of the African continent. The United Kingdom can leave the European Union by vote; it can only leave Europe by geographical re-definition. And if that were to be achieved, would it make Iceland and Ireland non-European?
In the conversational midst of these opposed visions—Leave, Remain--compounded by cartographic confusion, several did recognise the difficulty of comprehending their opponents. One Remainer couple felt the argument on their side was so right, they ‘couldn’t imagine people wouldn’t see the benefits of being in the EU.’ Other Remainers said to me, ‘You can’t understand how intelligent people can accept (Leave)’; ‘I can’t believe the stupidity of Leavers. (The referendum) was really about immigration but know it’s dodgy to say that.’ Some, mindful of manipulation during the campaign, branded Leavers as the ‘brainwashed’. But as one insightful Leaver observed, ‘When you ask Remainers, “Why did you vote that way?”, they can’t really tell you, and it’s the same for Leavers.’ I take her incisive comment to mean that the arguments from either side were not engaging, but sliding past one another. For several, whether Leave or Remain, commitment to their position was so firm that it could blind them to understanding others or that, failing to recognise the fundamental differences between the two camps, they traded deprecation over the effects, rather than the root causes of the debate.  For though both desire a utopia and view that of the other side a dystopia, Leavers and Remainers start from different bases and structure their arguments along different values. Thus, usually, they are not talking with each other, but at one another. The anti-Brexit campaign group, Bremain in Spain, found that so many of its members were complaining of frustrating, inconclusive debates with Leavers that it started holding regional workshops, to train Remainers in ways to engage productively with their opponents. According to the group’s website, attendees judged them ‘very useful and reassuring’.
It is important to remember that Leave/Remain is a manufactured difference. It is, to a great extent the product of public disagreements between professional politicians. Several interviewees said they had been quite happy with the ways things were, until they were given the choice. I.e. until they were forced to think where they stood on the issue. None of the interviewees had held public office, nor belonged to a political party beforehand. One declared he wasn’t ‘political’ before the debate had started, and had never voted consistently for the same party. In other words, Brexit had politicised the previously apolitical. One had even emailed several MPs and the Prime Minister. A life-long Tory, he said he’d never vote Conservative again.
Politicisation on the issue, however mild or strong, did not compute into collective action. The great majority of interviewees were ignorant of the anti-Brexit campaign groups; the rest, bar one, were knowledgeable of but apathetic towards them.  Only one of the 20 Remainers said they had joined some of these groups: Remain in the EU; Brexit No Way; Exit from Brexit. And he had only learnt of them via a spontaneous Facebook search, not from any contact, digital or physical, with members of any campaign group. Several said  individuals had come to give public talks in a local bar about what Brexit means, but these meetings had had no further consequence. 
To highlight the distinctiveness of the Brexit groupings, I briefly discuss two related,  overlapping populations among Britons in Spain: the unregistered, and what I call the ‘reinventers’. Foreigners who live in Spain for more than six months a year are obliged to register their presence with the Policía Nacional, who grant them residence permits. It is estimated that the number of Britons living in the country who have not registered is very high: maybe as much as 50%; maybe more. Conversations with friends, acquaintance, and informed others among the British in Spain led me to believe that these ‘unregistered’ were the bureaucracy-shy, who had tried to hide from various authorities in the UK and were doing the same in Spain. I did manage to speak with several ‘unregistered’: all of them stated that they had paid, or did pay their taxes in the UK, like any other law-abiding British citizen; the reason they did not register in Spain was not part of a generalised strategy to avoid officials, but the more specific one of evading those Spanish taxes which are higher than their UK equivalents. Depending on one’s range of assets and mode of income, Britons may well pay more to the state than they would back home. According to several, whether you chose to register ‘depends on your accountant to some degree’. For instance, inheritance tax is much higher, and the law dictates what percentage must go to which family members. I spoke with both Leavers and Remainers who were unregistered: in every case, their rationale was exclusively financial, and independent of their attitude to Brexit.
Lifestyle migrants, by definition, move for the sake of a better lifestyle. They wish to change their mode of living, positively. Though they cannot totally revise their quotidian existence, because the ideal of the improved life they wish to lead is part of their home context, they are able to make substantial changes. Many retrain in order to generate an income in their new place of residence, e.g. becoming a yoga instructor, or teacher of modern languages, whether English, German, or Spanish; one, who couldn’t speak Spanish when she arrived, ended up writing a textbook in it for fellow British incomers. Others, however, went further, in effect reinventing themselves. As one couple put it, ‘The main reason we’re here in Spain: we’re anonymous, and can be anybody we want to be.’ Several interviewees mentioned some Britons turning themselves into builders, painters, plumbers, decorators, or financial advisers, ‘on the plane over’, ‘all of a sudden’, and the costly mistakes they had made hiring these self-defining ‘experts’. But if these reinventers had clear financial motives, those of some others tended towards the fantastic. I was told of: an ex-corporal, who today speaks as though he had been a field marshal; a former RAF auxiliary who claims he was a Wing Commander; and a retired Marine who speaks of his years in the SAS. One interviewee told of a former acquaintance who broadcast that he had owned a very successful but somewhat obscure business in the UK; his teenage son later stated his father had been a warehouse manager for B & Q. Another described a neighbour who claimed to ‘have done everything’: as a supposed holder of a judo black belt, he said he’d trained a James Bond actor and Special Services personnel. I could go on but the point, I think, is made: by shifting residence to another country, with different climate, language, culture, and system of government, some migrants gave themselves the opportunity to change, sometimes radically, sometimes fantastically.
The unregistered keep away from the Policía Nacional for financial reasons, nothing more. They strive to take full advantage of beneficial disparities between British and Spanish tax regimes. In contrast, the reinventers are creating a past to suit their present, a task only limited by their imagination and persuasiveness. Many of my interviewees, whether Leavers and Remainers, are relatively distinct from both groups. Like the unregistered, they are concerned with personal budgeting, but their ultimate aims are politico-moral, not monetary. They are more interested in grand questions of governance than the minutiae of domestic spreadsheets. Like the reinventers, they pursue a dream, but of collective destiny, not individual biography. They put a socially-grounded ethics before self-aggrandisement. Both the Leavers and Remainers whom I interviewed uphold principles which cut deep; to them, the reinventers are an amusement on the side; and for the registered among them, the unregistered are a superficial fact of daily life. If anything, they are to be mocked for their penny-pinching evasion of the state, and the precarious situation they now find themselves in: they ‘wished to hide away; but now are having to do all the things they avoided’. Their critics, who had long ago bothered to learn to cope with Spanish bureaucracy, stated, some with satisfaction, that though the unregistered had been saying since the referendum ‘Nothing’s going to change’, from January 2019 on they had started to panic, and were now visiting solicitors for advice. ‘People are running around like blue-arse flies trying to get up to date.’
For the Leavers and Remainers I interviewed, the unregistered put money before principles, and judge dedicated reinventers indulgent make-believers, a cause for a wry smile, little more. But for those engaged with the pros and cons of Brexit, Britain’s relation with the EU is not for trivialising; it’s a phenomenon of a different, core order, a moral one.
In sum, we have two temporary groupings, of opposed views of the world, strongly upheld by people who are politicised but not collectively organised. They are passionately committed to their particular position, and often derogatory about those on the opposed side. These are positions so profoundly felt that Leavers, for instance, are prepared to put their conception of nationhood over economic concerns; they place their political beliefs and national visions before their own personal futures. They support Leave though, they fully recognise, it may well impact on their continued residency in their new home of choice. This can make it difficult for Remainers to understand them. In Britain, academic acquaintances and friends of mine have expressed disbelief to me that British residents of Spain would vote Leave, but that of course is a statement of my colleagues’ own beliefs. In contrast Remainers are ready to laud multiculturalism, despite some sociological evidence questioning its claimed benefits (Putnam 2007; Abascal & Baldassarri 2015). Remainers uphold a novel system of government, which though still evolving, continues to suffer from a democratic deficit, and burdens taxpayers with a relatively inefficient, and therefore costly bureaucracy. Of course Remainers might ask opponents for an example of a supra-national administration whose efficacy was deemed near-perfect.
Given their mutually contested approaches to history, we can state Leavers find hope in the past, Remainers in the future. What chance the present?

Big, big thanks to all those who agreed to be interviewed, and those who assisted in finding possible interviewees. I am most grateful for their interest and patience. Immense gratitude also to Sarah-Jane Morris and Sara Munsterhjelm, Consul and Vice-Consul, British Consulate, Alicante, who have consistently supported this continuing research project; and to Oxford Brookes University, which awarded me a ‘Research Excellence and Impact’ grant to fund this phase of my work on Brexit.
If you disagree with any opinions expressed here, do not direct your irritation at either the Consulate or the University, but at their independently-minded writer: me. 

Abascal, M. & Baldassarri, D. 2015 ‘Love they neighbour? Ethnoracial diversity and trust reexamined’, American journal of sociology, November, 121(2): 722-82
Boon, James A. 1983 Other tribes, other scribes. Symbolic anthropology in the comparative study of cultures, histories, religions, and texts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Putnam, Robert 2007 ‘E pluribus unum: diversity and community in the twenty-first century. The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture’, Scandanavian political studies, June, 30(2): 137-74

Monday, 19 June 2017

The French Equivalent: ESRC-funded meeting 02 June Perigueux

The second of our two 'Brexit and Beyond' meetings took place 2 June at the Franco-British Camber of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) in Perigueux, France. Following a similar format to the Alicante event, Fiona and Jeremy introduced their research and raised some open-ended questions for discussion with the audience. This was followed by presentations from Roger Boaden of Expat Citizen Rights in EU (ECREU), John Shaw of Fair Deal for Expats, Brian Robinson representing Remain in France Together (RIFT), and Paul Fisher, Chair or Liberal Democrats in France. Participants in the event included Dominique Olley, Consul of the British Consulate, Bordeaux, and Pam, also of the Consulate, Britons resident in France, local French stakeholders, some academics from Limoges University, and Jane Hanks from Connexion newspaper. Many of those present in this afternoon session, also attended an event with the British Ambassador to France, Lord Llewellyn in the morning. 

Discussions focused on citizenship status and rights (British, French, Irish and EU citizenships); the role and achievements of the different campaign groups, as well as British in Europe (the coalition of UK citizens and campaign groups in Europe); and the formalisation of The Liberal Democrats in France post 23 June referendum. Specific rights were discussed such as pensions and health care. One point that was made was the diversity of categories of 'British citizen' that exist, each containing different rights and relationships to the EU. In additional, British subjects (i.e. citizens of the Channel Islands) were also mentioned, indicating the diversity of categories of people that need to be considered, rather than bundled into one single 'British citizen' or 'resident in France' category.
In contrast with the  meeting in Spain, Britons attending this event in France were quick to express whether they would forego British citizenship in order to retain their rights as EU citizens. There was an overwhelming majority of hands raised in the audience to indicate that yes, they would.

The event was initially advertised by Connexion (an English language newspaper in France): 

(as well as via other online sites e.g. Angloinfo) and a first report of the event is available online:

The July issue of Connexion will feature a print report of the event.

This event was funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Scheme, and Jeremy and Fiona would like to express their thanks to the ESRC, as well as the FBCCI, the British Consulate France, the presenters and participants who attended what was considered to be a successful event.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Successful ESRC-funded meeting, Alicante, 26 April 2017

Jeremy MacClancy and Fiona Ferbrache organised a lively 'Brexit and beyond' debate late April in the University of Miguel Hernandez, Elche, Alicante province, Spain. Participants included Liz Bell, the British Vice-Consul, Alicante, and Hugo Griffin, a Consular Officer; and representatives from 3 campaign groups: Margaret Hales, ECREU; Zoe Adams Green, Bremain in Spain; James Simpson, EUROPATS; as well as members of the press, British residents, and a pair of Spanish sociologists. 

The main themes debated were: the nature and style of the Brexit campaigns; the aims and activist work done by the campaign groups since the referendum; the need for them to publicise their efforts more broadly; the emerging coalitions, Continent-wide, between different groups; a series of more pragmatic issues (rights of residency, access to health care services, guaranteeing of pension rights, aggregated pensions, etc.) The question was also raised whether British residents in Spain would be prepared to forego their British citizenship for the sake of securing the above rights. We also discussed who are the unregistered British residents in Spain, how many they might be (a majority of the UK resident population, some considered), and why they do not register. 

The meeting ended with lunch and a giant paella. The event was covered by Informacion (Alicantine newspaper) and Costa Blanca News (regional English-language newspaper); the Univerisy of Miguel Hernandez also released a video on the debate, interviewing both MacClancy and Ferbrache. This event and the next one, in the Dordogne, are funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Scheme. 

Our next meeting is on the early afternoon, Friday 2 June, 1.30pm onwards, at:

the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie Dordogne
Pole Interconsulaire
295 Boulevard des Saveurs
24660 Coulounieix-Chamiers
(just south of Perigueux). 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Brilliant Brexit conference, University of Southampton, 31 March 2017

Ten days ago (31 March) I attended a brilliant workshop at the Centre for Population Change, University of Southampton: The legacy of Brexit: mobility and citizenship in times of uncertainty. A series of speakers, mainly sociologists, on their Brexit-framed research. Much of it was highly provisional; the research programmes of many of the speakers had only just commenced.

For me, high points included:

  • Elizabeth Knott, London School of Economics, doing work on EU residents in the UK post-Brexit: 'For the first time here in this country, I felt like an immigrant'. Another person told her, 'I feel unwelcome and unwanted.'
  • Susan Collard, University of Sussex, who ten years ago had interviewed British town-coucillors in rural southwest France. In those day, she said, no one was talking about 'citizenship'; they just wished to participate in local organizing activities. She stressed the difference in the attitudes expressed by activist Brits in that area today.
  • Charlotte Galpin, University of Copenhagen (though moving to University of Birmingham in the autumn), spoke of her team's online surveys about people's fears. One sign of their concern was how many responded to their questionnaire: she had expected about 700; they got 1,700.
  • Kuba Jablonowski, PhD candidate University of Exeter, excited everyone by describing  how he'd managed to join the inner circle of campaigning group the3million, even travelling with them in their car to Westminster, to present their position. In answer to a question whether he'd shifted from studying to activism,he replied that he gave advice when asked, but shied away from proffering ideas about strategy.

Another said how irritated some Brits abroad were with the label 'migrant, as they saw themselves as simply moving from one part of the EU to another. As one said, "Is an American who moves from New York to LA a migrant?"

Very much look forward to the polished, published versions,

Jeremy MacClancy