British expats buy cheaper pints as Brexit chaos threatens Spanish idyll

By Isla Binnie
British expats buy cheaper pints as Brexit chaos threatens Spanish idyll

By Isla Binnie

BENALMADENA, Spain (Reuters) - In the bowling clubs, bars and real estate agencies of Spain's southern coast, a long-established expatriate population is turning frugal as Britons fret about their future.

"There's hardly anybody out, and they're not spending a lot," said bar owner Kevin Sharp on Tuesday night, minutes after lawmakers in London snubbed Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal to leave his birth country's departure from the EU in disarray.

"The older generation is more worried. I've got a top-of-the-range beer for three euros, but they're looking at the one-euro bar over the road," said 50-year-old Sharp, originally from Aberdeen.

Around 300,000 Britons live in Spain, many of them retirees lured by the Mediterranean climate and calm pace of life, and Sharp's establishment in Benalmadena is a short drive down the coast from one of their heartlands, Torremolinos.

The Spanish government has been at pains to reassure them that their rights in Spain will be protected after Brexit.

But a sharp depreciation of the pound since the June 2016 Brexit referendum and worries about whether they can continue to enjoy healthcare and regular pension increases are taking their toll.

Britons now "might share a toastie instead of having one each," said Sue Aspey, owner of the Wigan Bar on the beach in Benalmadena.

Its menu includes Lancashire lamb hotpot and traditional British sweet dish jam roly-poly, which could be subject to import tariffs or higher transport costs after Britain leaves the bloc.

"If things are more expensive for us to buy and people on the terrace only have the same amount of money in their pockets, we'd have to absorb that increase," she said.


RELOCATION, RELOCATION

Britons in Spain are putting off bigger investments too.

Kevin Welch's real estate company usually gets lots of enquiries in the run-up to Christmas from British people who want to move to Spain's sunny southern coast. But not this year.

"There wasn't that same amount of traffic coming through, saying Joe Bloggs is interested in x, y and z," said Welch, originally from Liverpool and now living in Benalmadena.

Data from the agency that tracks sales of Spanish property shows Britons still buy far more than any other foreign nationality, but they have gone from 22 percent of all foreign buyers in the first quarter of 2016 to 16 percent in the third quarter of 2018.

"People are holding out," Welch said. "Some people are still looking to buy, but you know that two or three years ago they could have got a lot more for their buck."

Holiday home buyers and wealthy people have been affected less, but those looking to relocate away from the busy coast have been put off by factors including uncertainty about future tax arrangements and even ease of travel, said Graham Ducker, who directs two real estate agencies in Malaga province.

Ducker says he has seen a drop of more than 50 percent in demand from Britons, who on average want to pay around 15 percent less than they did before the referendum.

"The taxes paid by non Europeans on house sales is also a lot higher than by EU citizens and so that may also change," Ducker said. "There are many reasons for British buyers and sellers to be worried in the case of a hard Brexit."


(Reporting by Isla Binnie, additional reporting by Catherine Macdonald; editing by Andrei Khalip and John Stonestreet)