My double nationality remarks at meeting of Brit ex-pats in Madrid

How many of you have lived in Spain for more than 10 years?

Those of you who have qualify, if you so wish, to start the process of double nationality provided you also pay taxes here and contribute to the social security system, assuming you are not retired.

A Spaniard in the UK, however, only needs five years residency and unlike we Brits does not run the risk of having his second passport (the British one granted to him) taken away from him if he continues to use his Spanish passport.

It is true that the chances of a Brit having his Spanish passport confiscated if he continues to use his British one after obtaining Spanish nationality are very very slim, but that is not the point.

The threat is there and why should it exist if it is not the case in the UK? We may be pissed off with the demented decision to leave the EU, but we still identify to some extent with the country. In my case increasingly less so.

Furthermore, had we been able to vote in the referendum – only those living abroad for under 15 years could do so – we would have voted to Remain.

To be fair to the Spanish government, it is not only the Brits who are discriminated against in this matter. And it has nothing to do with Spain’s centuries-long claim over Gibraltar, ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

Those who have an automatic right to double nationality – essentially Latin Americans for historical reasons – do not have to renounce their passports. Those who don’t – basically all other countries – do.

As a result of this unlevel playing field, which only really came to people’s notice after the Brexit referendum, Giles Tremlett and I launched a petition calling for the same conditions for Brits in Spain as for Spaniards in the UK.

Allowing dual nationality for long-term residents would mean a change in Spanish legislation. The previous PP government offered dual nationality to the descendants of Jews who were expelled in 1492. So it would not be the first time an exception was made.

I am doubtful this will happen for us, although it would be a gesture of good will, because there will be no quid pro quo for Spain as its citizens already have the better deal. Will we be used as a bargaining chip when the Brexit negotiations start? It might depend on the terms of the Brexit agreement.

According to Jean Claude Piris, the former head of the EU’s legal service whom I met last week, there will be a hard Brexit with a soft landing. By this he means the UK would give up full access to the single market in return for full control over its borders but there would be a transition period.

The last PP government offered double nationality in October to the citizens of Gibraltar as part of a deal under which the UK would share sovereignty of the Rock with Spain, a pact that both London and Gibraltar were swift to reject.

Gibraltar’s situation is going to change as a result of Brexit for fairly obvious reasons. It is assumed the offer still stands with the new government, though I can never see Gibraltarians accepting they have to renounce their British passports, albeit in theory but not in practice.

Around 18,500 people have signed the petition and now that we have a functioning government we will present it, probably to the Justice Ministry.

The British ex-pat community in Spain is the largest in the European Union. Various figures are bandied around. The usual one, based on that produced by Spain’s Statistics Office is 300,000.

In our petition we estimate that around 25,000 have been in Spain for more than 10 years. We are not calling for the Spanish government to give double nationality to everyone and so pick up the health bill for the great majority of ex pats who have not paid into Spanish social security and are dependent on EU reciprocal health care. This would be a heavy burden for the Spanish state and at a time when the country’s welfare system, like the UK’s, is in crisis.