Alyson was interviewed by the BBC about her views on Brexit, on the historic day when the UK ended its transition period and entered the new post-Brexit era. Obviously only a small section of Alyson’s answers made it into the final piece – you can read the published article via the link here to the BBC website:
We thought you might like to read Alyson’s full interview, so we have included it here for you:
Alyson Sheldrake is 52 and a former Director of Education for the Church of England. Her husband, Dave, aged 64, is a retired police officer. They purchased a house in the Algarve, Portugal, in 2006, whilst still living and working in the UK. Once Dave retired in 2011, they moved out to live there permanently. They set up their own businesses, Alyson working as a professional artist, and Dave as a photographer. In 2020, Alyson wrote two books about their life abroad. They have worked hard to integrate with the local community and have been impressed with how friendly and welcoming the Portuguese have been to them. They now live a less stressful, relaxed, and quieter way of life, and have never regretted their move to live abroad.
What were your main concerns following the Brexit vote in 2016?
I think initially we were just stunned that the vote had actually gone against us. We are proudly European and love the fact that we didn’t even have to think about whether it was possible for us to move here to the Algarve to live. It was a simple process involving a few forms at the local town hall, and then we were registered and settled. No-one seemed to know what the implications of the Brexit vote would be, or what the benefits might be in the future.
What were your main concerns during the UK-EU negotiations? What issues matter most to you?
One of our main concerns was that it all seemed to be unresolved for so long. It left everyone and everything in limbo, not knowing what might happen or what the future would look like. Finding ourselves still negotiating a deal on Christmas Eve, four-and-a-half years after the initial vote was faintly ridiculous. Every time Portuguese friends asked us what was happening, it was embarrassing trying to reply. Their attitude was one of utter amazement and disbelief that the UK would leave the EU. For Portugal, membership has brought them many benefits, not least improving their overall infrastructure and providing much-needed money for projects and improvements.
For us personally, we had to accept that whatever deal was struck would negatively influence us and our financial position, and there is nothing we can do about that. Dave’s police pension is taxed in the UK (!) even though we gain no benefits at all from that position, and he is not far off receiving his old-age pension. The pound to euro rate plummeted as soon as the Brexit vote was announced and hasn’t moved much since.
There are broader concerns than just our own lives to consider, though. As a former educator, I am aware of the tremendous benefits that programmes like the Erasmus Project have, and the vast number of highly beneficial and innovative education projects that were EU funded when I was working in schools. The thought that well-qualified and experienced UK professionals will find that their qualifications are no longer recognised or transferrable across Europe is faintly ridiculous. We know of many Portuguese friends that have moved to the UK for work, and creating more restrictions on their movement and opportunities is a sad position, which may also backfire on others like us in the future who want to retire abroad. For those Europeans who want to live and work in the UK the new immigration points system may well an insurmountable barrier for them. It may also trigger European countries demanding the same system in return.
Throughout the negotiations, very little mention was made of the millions of us that actually already live and/or work in the EU, either part-time or full-time. Portugal has been swift to reassure us of their ongoing support and desire for us to remain here, which has been very comforting. The same cannot be said for the British government.
I have been saddened by the way Brexit has divided people so drastically. Some of the vitriol and hatred displayed through social media has been horrific, with people diametrically opposed to one another and happy to vent their views at any opportunity. One of the ideals of the EU was surely to bring people together, to celebrate differences, and also work in partnership and help weaker member states. My father fought in the Second World War, and the peacetime that my generation and those younger than me have enjoyed has been unprecedented. To see people so savagely divided over this issue has been shocking and most unpleasant, and I do fear for the future. What type of society are we creating for our young people?
Are you happy that a trade deal was agreed at this late stage?
I’m really not sure whether this is a good deal or not. Granted, I guess it was better to have a trade deal in place than crashing out of Europe without a deal, but it seems to be written on very thin tissue paper. People are already talking about tariff wars in the future, and they haven’t even started sorting out what this means in terms of trade and the transport of goods.
From our viewpoint over here, the UK media seemed utterly fixated upon talking about the eventually useless trade deals the government was proposing with Donald Trump, and then it was all about the fishing rights. It was as if nothing else existed but those two things! Underneath all of this are people’s lives and livelihoods at stake. It all seems to have been de-personalised and I worry that when reality sinks in, and jobs, industries and businesses continue to fold, then and only then will the reality of what the UK has done actually sink in.
Now we have a fuller picture of what Brexit will look like, with the withdrawal agreement and trade deal in place, how are you feeling about the future? How do you see your life changing moving forward, if at all?
Although we are settled and very happy here in Portugal, as British citizens we have lost our right to freedom of movement across Europe. I am intent on bringing my Portuguese language skills up to the required level to apply for citizenship, which will enable me to apply for a Portuguese passport. We have full residency rights, which the Portuguese government has already promised to protect, and they have set up a new scheme to provide biometric cards under the Withdrawal Agreement specifically for current British residents. That does not guarantee the same rights for anyone from Britain wanting to move over here to live from the 1st January 2021, and they may well find themselves with a lot more hoops to jump through to gain residency. The smooth, straightforward process we completed for residency has now ended, and things like free healthcare may not be on offer for new arrivals from the UK.
We have no clear idea yet how Brexit will impact our lives in the future, but it is clear that it has no benefits for us. We know lots of British people that have found their UK based bank account has been closed down, with banks saying they can no longer offer an account to someone with an address abroad. So far, our bank has said that they will continue to support us.
We often buy items from Amazon UK, and have found that many items we have previously purchased are no longer shipping to Portugal, or they are now charging eye-wateringly high postage rates. With Covid this year we were loyal to a few small UK-based businesses for sending over special food items (including dog food!) as they were cheaper than buying local, but Brexit has forced these small businesses to stop delivering to Europe. We now complete all our online shopping through Portuguese or Spanish stores. We are just a microcosm of the situation here, but I am sure that our story will be replicated many times over and the smaller independent stores are the ones that will lose out.
I have always joked to friends that we will never return to the UK to live. We now feel that even more strongly and can see absolutely no reason why we would ever return. Portugal has made us most welcome and we intend to stay here. But that does not stop us being British, or totally embarrassed by the entire Brexit debacle. We still have to pay tax in the UK and have our pensions there, so we will always be tied to the country in one way or another.
Alyson Sheldrake has written two books about their expat life in the Algarve, covering the highs and lows, and reality of life abroad. For more information, visit her website www.alysonsheldrake.com
All images © Dave Sheldrake Photography