Lured by warmer weather, cheaper property and a Mediterranean lifestyle, some 800,000 Britons have made Spain their home over the last three decades. Now, many are wondering what a British exit from the European Union would mean to their way of life.
At Saydo Park, a trailer park nestled in the olive tree lined hills of central Andalusia, Britain’s 23 June EU referendum is casting a shadow for many of its 200 retired British residents. Some 35 per cent of British residents officially registered in Spain are over 65 years old. Among the main concerns for retired expatriates in case of a Brexit are healthcare and pensions.
British pensioners registered as residents in Spain now have free access to healthcare under a reciprocal EU deal.
Without it, some say, they would not be able to stay because they could not afford a private plan. Many also fear they would be unable to afford property if they had to return to Britain. "We’ve been able to migrate here and we're residents. If the UK comes out of the EU, we may be classed as aliens," said Peter Harrison, 74, who has lived at Saydo Park since 2007.
Harrison’s fears are echoed by many others who, over the years, have made use of the bloc’s right to free movement to set up a home in Spain and bring over the British way of life. Along the touristy Costa del Sol, pubs and fish and chip shops stand alongside restaurants serving paella.
With just a few weeks to go, it is not clear what kind of relationship London would negotiate with the bloc should Britons vote to leave the EU. The UK would have two years to negotiate new terms.
Expats moved to Spain in the 1960s and 1970s, and after Madrid joined the EU in 1986 their numbers increased. By 2014, data showed Spain had become the most popular destination for British migrants in the EU.
"I think if we come out it will affect people living out here," 80-year old Patricia Dennison said. "There are a lot of people who live here on a very small pension and should we have to pay for our medical, I think a lot of people will leave here and go back to England and they will just have to find places to put us in England."
According to the British Embassy in Madrid, tens of thousands of those expatriates entitled to vote have registered to do so and the overseas vote could play a big part in the final result.