Louis Ghio, teacher, interpreter and translator; Gareth Thomas, English teacher… They are two Brits who have spent the last few weeks in the classrooms of TANDEM Madrid Spanish school. The reason? Studying to take the “Constitutional and socio-cultural knowledge of Spain” exam (CCSE test) and the DELE (Diploma de Español Lengua Extranjera).
These tests, which are essential when applying for Spanish nationality and citizenship, are organized by the Instituto Cervantes through its network of schools collaborating in the teaching of Spanish, including TANDEM Madrid.
Louis and Gareth have lived in Madrid for more than 10 years, Louis since 1985, and both speak Spanish to perfection.
The only way out of the Brexit labyrinth is for them to become Spaniards, a step forcing them to renounce their British nationality. “I have lived in Spain practically all my adult life. I am a member of your society, I pay my taxes here, my house is here, and my partner is from here”.
With Brexit, the United Kingdom has decided to break the agreement that has always allowed me, as a European, to reside legally in Spain almost like another Spaniard.
Therefore, I have decided to ask for nationality, not only for legal reasons, but also as a bet for my long future in Spain, the country I love”, explains Gareth Thomas in a perfect Spanish.
Louis is living this moment with real concern: “I have been in Spain for many years. Although I don’t feel totally Spanish yet, I feel more comfortable here than in the UK. I had never had to consider obtaining Spanish citizenship, as it was never necessary.
Since I was protected by my European citizenship, and protected by European laws and the rights emanating from them, I did not see the need. It is difficult to explain what it feels like to think about changing nationality.
It is a mixture between betrayal and loss of identity; a kind of renunciation of a collective, of voluntary amnesia. Only a catastrophic event, something endangering my way of life, could make me think about it. The unimaginable has happened.
The “nationality exams” have been offered on a massive and regular basis since October 2015. The Government decided to open the door to millions of immigrants and expatriates who arrived in the country in the late 90s and early 2000s and give them the opportunity to become Spanish.
People who have resided in Spain for at least 10 years can apply for this procedure. Once these tests have been passed, the process of acquiring Spanish nationality and citizenship continues at the Ministry of Justice.
Attending one of these examinations as an observer is like opening a window on the world.
There are people of very different origins, socio-cultural and working contexts. Immigrants abound from Asia (Bangladesh and Pakistan especially), Latin America, Morocco, non-EU Europe, the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa. Europeans from the European Community, the United States, Australia or Canada who applied for this procedure could be counted on the fingers of one hand in each application call.
But Brexit and its drift have changed the landscape. It is now easy to distinguish British names in the lists of participants.
In Madrid, they are generally education professionals, lawyers, journalists, etc., fully integrated into Spanish life.
They regret not having been able to vote in the UK’s Brexit referendum. And it is precisely they who will be among the first to be radically affected when the exit from the European Union is completed. As of March 2019, they will enter a Spanish limbo since they will no longer be European citizens.
Their case is very different from that of thousands of compatriots who live on the Spanish coast and who, for the most part, live on a “British Island”. They know very little about Spanish culture and society, and their knowledge of Spanish is limited.
Brexit is also increasing the tendency to learn Spanish in the UK: “We have never seen or felt so much interest in Spanish”, said Ignacio Peyró, director of the Cervantes Institute in London, in an interview with the Efe agency, during the Language Show, held this past November in London.