Yesterday in the Auditorio Infanta Leonor in Los Cristianos, there was an open session with the British Vice Consul, Helen Diaz de Arcaya Keating MBE.
The Consular Regional Director – South of Europe, Gerard McGurk, responsible for all the consulates from Portugal to Turkey, and Charmaine Arbouin, Consul for the Canaries and Andalucía also attended. The purpose of the meeting was to explain what the consulate do and how over the years they have evolved.
In the Canary Islands, the Consular staff are just 8 people whose work is regularly monitored and evaluated. Hard going when you think of the millions of visitors we have, even before you include the ex-pats living here. It is therefore imperative that individuals are responsible for their own actions, such as purchasing the correct travel insurance for their needs, making sure their passports are valid and applying for an EHIC card.
When we hear the words British Consulate, most of us think ‘tourists, lost passport, needs repatriation’. Naturally, this is a large portion of the work; however, they also work closely with and for UK residents overseas.
They offer individual support with bereavement, rape, illness and the like, ensuring the British resident has access to the right people for their specific circumstances. What we generally don´t hear about is the amount of ‘preventative’ work they carry out, not always under their own name but through partners. How closely they work with town halls to ensure the authority is aware of the Brits in their area, how they can help those residents to better integrate into the local community and that the ex-pat is receiving what they are entitled to in the way of social services etc.
Naturally, the main topic for ‘Brits Abroad’ now is the ‘B word’ and how the outcome will affect us. It was clear that a large number of those attending were the grey brigade who took the opportunity to discuss their concerns often about pensions and healthcare. The Consular Regional Director put into context what is happening, as far as they know. Despite that earlier in the day Theresa May set out her 12-point negotiating strategy, this is only a plan and everyone has yet to agree. However, on the point of ex-pats here, the CRD believes that Spain would not make it overly difficult for those people already here but he promised that all concerns would be fed back to Dept. for Exiting Europe. He also hopes that a representative from that department will visit the island before Brexit is finalised.
We can of course help ourselves; we should all register on our local Padron, it is surely better to be inside our country of choice before the door closes than after the event. Yet when Article 50 is triggered, it will undoubtedly be a long time before we notice any changes. There are so many complicated rulings to be considered that nothing will happen the following day, week, or possibly year.
Ex-pats should also keep informed through reliable sources, rather than the press which can be biased. The Consul is a great believer and user of social media and regularly update their Facebook pages Brits in Spain and British Embassy Madrid. You can also get information, news and activities from the FCO and British Embassy in Madrid and British consulates around Spain (in Spanish and in English) by following the twitter account @Ukinspain and of course the Government website https://www.gov.uk/