A diaspora is waking up with a fright to a life without rightsby Giles Tremlett / September 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
The police rang our doorbell at 3am on the hottest night of the summer, while Madrileños were being gently oven-roasted at a still and steady 30 degrees centigrade. I opened the door, semi-naked, to find two municipal police officers staring at me. The fan in a guest’s room was keeping the downstairs neighbour awake, so could we turn it off? I wish it had stayed that polite, but they wanted to play games, making me march dozily around the apartment doing pointless tests with the fans. When we got fed up and asked them to leave, tempers frayed on both sides, a policeman’s boot was wedged against our door, passports were demanded and they eventually stomped off, promising to “file a report” on us. One officer’s eyes burned with hatred. For the past 25 years my encounters with Madrid’s police have been respectful, easygoing affairs and, for a day or two, I was convinced that only my new status as a future non-citizen of the European Union could explain the change.
This is classic Brexpat paranoia: a common, exaggerated and understandable malaise among the 1.2m fearful Britons living in the EU. We are the reverse side of the coin that bears the Polish plumber’s face on its front. Logic dictates that everything that happens to him in the future must also happen to us, and if the British are already showing hatred towards European immigrants, it is easy to imagine that others might hate us in return.
For a country obsessed with immigration, it is remarkable how little the UK bothers to think about emigration. Academic research is sparse, and political interest is nil. The Office for National Statistics does not collate exact numbers, which must be guessed at from elsewhere. Some 5m Britons—equivalent to 8 per cent of the UK population—live abroad, spread over several continents. That makes us the world’s eighth biggest exporter of migrants, and the EU’s largest. It compares to, say, the 3 per cent of Spaniards or Pakistanis who live outside their countries. The net outflow of British nationals—700,000 people in the past decade—has been continuous for all but one year over the past half century. Official lack of interest helps explain why David Cameron ignored his election pledge to scrap a rule preventing expats from voting in the UK…