Spain Holds Special Stake In Brexit Vote

Jun 22, 2016
Originally published on June 22, 2016 7:41 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Immigration has been a big part of the debate around tomorrow's EU referendum in Britain. The European Union allows people to move freely through its countries, and that's allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants to settle in Britain. At the same time, about as many Britons have fanned out across the rest of Europe. The biggest community of British expats is in Spain. Lauren Frayer reports at Brits there, and their Spanish hosts are watching the referendum nervously.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCING QUEEN")

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) You can dance. You can jive, having the time of your life.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The Melody Makers are a British choir on Spain's Mediterranean coast. Many members are retirees. They don't need to speak Spanish to live here. There are British supermarkets, pubs and fish and chip shops. Because they're EU citizens, Britons draw their U.K. pensions here and get public health care. All the amenities of Britain with 300-plus days of sunshine, says choir director Nigel Hopkins, who moved from the U.K. six years ago.

NIGEL HOPKINS: There's of oodles of golf courses, and of course we've got the beaches and the sea life. It's cheaper to eat out than it is to eat at home. Everything you could wish for, basically.

FRAYER: At the local British lawn bowling club, the possibility of Brexit is casting a shadow over these retirees' place in the sun.

HOPKINS: It's a nightmare to us. We'll lose our health care, which is what we all come for here, as well you know. If we come out, our houses will be halved in price, as well. It'll cost us thousands.

FRAYER: Like many expats, Martin Foulcer has cast a postal ballot to remain in the EU. He admits he'd vote differently if he still lived in England. He thinks there are too many immigrants there. Fact is the EU has created lots of economic migrants. Why not move south to Spain, where life is cheaper and your pension buys more? That's what Britain's David and Irene Laverick did, and they've got company, they say.

DAVID LAVERICK: Our community - out of 163 apartments, we have Irish, English.

IRENE LAVERICK: Norwegian.

D. LAVERICK: Norwegian.

I. LAVERICK: Italian.

D. LAVERICK: Italian.

I. LAVERICK: And one Polish.

FRAYER: That's globalization, says fellow bowler Lynn Hudson.

LYNN HUDSON: With all the travel - being able to travel from one country to the other so easily now - this is what the world's going to end up being like.

FRAYER: Unless Brexit forces the Britons here to uproot and retreat. Spain desperately wants to keep them. They've been a boon to the local economy, says Carmelo Varas, a Spanish realtor on the coast.

CARMELO VARAS: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: I eke out a living, thanks to them, he says. Last year, I sold about a hundred houses, and 98 of them were to foreigners. Many of his clients are waiting for tomorrow's referendum before they invest here. Like everyone on this coast, Varas watches exchange rates daily. If the British pound falls, so does his business. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Torrevieja, Spain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.