Ambassador calls on Brits in Portugal to get legal ahead of Brexit
The new British Ambassador to Portugal is urging all Brits living in Portugal who haven’t yet legally registered with the Portuguese authorities to do so before the Brexit deadline (March 29, 2019).
“There may well come a point in this Brexit process where it will be important for people to demonstrate their residency,” Ambassador Chris Sainty told the Resident this week.
On a two-day visit to the Algarve, the ambassador said this was perhaps the most important message he would like to get across to the British community.
“We know that there are still many Brits living in Portugal who haven’t registered legally. We don’t know how many, but we are sure there are a lot. There is no reason not to do it and there is every reason to do it,” he said, suggesting Brits will eventually need to prove residency during the Brexit process.
“It’s not a complicated process and we even published advice on our Living in Portugal online pages (www.gov.uk/world/portugal), which explains what people need to do. We would very strongly encourage all Brits who haven’t yet done that, to do it now.”
According to Embassy figures, the number of Brits living in Portugal has increased slightly from around 40,000 to 50,000 over the last couple of years. “It’s difficult to know exact numbers because not everybody has registered with the Portuguese authorities and I think it may well be that, over the last year, people who hadn’t previously registered have done so, increasing that number.”
The British Vice Consulate in Portimão has also held surgeries in the Algarve to provide information and guidance on registering as a resident with local Portuguese authorities.
“If you live in Portugal for more than six months of the year, you should obtain a residency certificate from your local town hall. After living here for five years, you should apply to SEF, the Immigration and Borders Service, for permanent residency,” said the Consulate in a press statement. “With the UK leaving the EU in 2019, if you intend to live permanently in Portugal, and want to benefit from the advantages of living here, it is very important to obtain your ‘residência’ in order to be properly integrated and registered.”
Brexit tops ambassador’s agenda
In a Facebook video message to introduce himself to the British community in Portugal, Chris Sainty said Brexit was his “number one” issue and despite being a veritable hot potato for any British diplomat working in an EU country now, “in the Portuguese context,” he says, “it is relatively easy to deal with because the Portuguese government has been extremely constructive and supportive in the efforts to reach a good agreement over Brexit”.
“I consider myself quite fortunate to be in Portugal because we have a warm and historical relationship with the country and that is reflected in the kind of conversations that we have between our governments.”
The ambassador admits that most Portuguese officials he has spoken to say they “regret” that the UK is leaving the EU but “understand” that the former has “made a decision for the country; a democratic decision”, said the ambassador, choosing his words carefully.
“The Portuguese accept that we are leaving, and they now take a very pragmatic approach, which is that we need to get a good agreement that works for both sides,” he said.
The British community, on the other hand, have expressed concern about Brexit, which Chris Sainty says he “completely understands”.
“We are at a delicate point in Brexit negotiations as we are running close to the deadline. There are still large questions that need answering,” he said, pointing out that the “press speculation” that the UK might not reach an agreement has led to this “worry”.
Despite the various headlines in the British press, there are “high expectations” that the UK will reach the deal with the European Union in the upcoming weeks, “mainly because it is in the interests of both sides”.
“Both sides would lose if we failed to do a deal, so we are hopeful we will soon see an agreement reached between the UK and the EU,” said the ambassador.
On meeting Marcelo
Chris Sainty was appointed in January, in succession to Kirsty Hayes. He formally presented his credentials to the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, on Monday, October 1.
“It was a great honour to meet His Excellency, the President of the Republic. There was a formal ceremony in which I presented my Letters of Credence and then we had a private conversation. He was very charming and had tremendous warmth,” he said of Portugal’s Head of State, known fondly in Portugal as the “President of Affections”.
Sainty spent his first week in Portugal meeting important figures in the government, particularly those responsible in one way or another for the Brexit process and that included senior officials in their various ministries, such as the foreign minister, Augusto Santos Silva.
The ambassador says he is “fascinated” by the very close bond between the two countries, which goes back more than 600 years. “That is a solid base for our partnership with Portugal that we want going forwards after Brexit,” he said.
Educational and trading links
Education is another sector the British Ambassador is keen to see strengthen in the future. There are around 400,000 Portuguese people living in the UK and many are there to study.
“I think educational links, particularly higher education, are really important to the UK-Portugal relationship and I would very much like to see that continue and strengthen in the coming years,” said Chris Sainty, highlighting particularly the scientific cooperation between the two countries. “There are very talented Portuguese research students doing their work in British universities.”
Portugal has been gaining considerable ground in the trade and investment market in the past couple of years, becoming a top choice for many foreign investors. When asked about the British Embassy’s role in this success, the ambassador was quick to answer. “I think the embassy has played a very important part,” he said, going on to present some figures.
In 2017, the volume of trade between the two countries was worth €11.5 billion, representing an increase of nearly 50% since 2012 (around €8 billion). The UK is Portugal’s largest export market for services and is the fourth largest export market for goods.
“It’s also significant that Portugal exports more than twice as much to the UK than the UK exports to Portugal. There’s a big trade balance in Portugal’s favour. And that, of course, is another reason why Portugal has a strong interest in achieving a good Brexit deal that enables goods and services to flow fully between the UK and Portugal in the future,” said the ambassador, adding that trade covers a wide range of sectors, like textiles, shoes, food and drink, and services.
However, there is also an increasing flow in trade and investment in innovative industries like digital and creative industries, and fintech (financial technology). “There’s tremendous potential for growth here. And I think the embassy can play an important part in facilitating those kinds of relationships to make trade function effectively,” he said.
The Embassy recently organised a large event in Lisbon to celebrate the successes of its main business partners who have been successfully trading and investing in each other’s markets over the last two years. “We organise various forums and gatherings to bring business leaders together,” he said.
Reaching out and the social media
The ambassador feels there has always been a lot of positive interaction with the British community, which the social media has more recently “facilitated”. Since the Embassy started using Facebook, engagement with the British community has “multiplied”, said Chris Sainty. However, he knows Facebook is not the solution, particularly when there are older generations involved.
With the Algarve’s high concentration of British expats, the ambassador says it’s important to be closer to the community, hence the informal visit to the region this week to meet with various representatives from a wide range of areas and organisations. “We use various communications channels to get the message out, but each one of these representatives will be able to reach out to the British community even further,” he said.
But it’s not all work and no play for this diplomat who describes himself as an “outdoors person”.
When not in a suit and tie, the ambassador says he likes to go for a run and cycling – he even used to cycle to the foreign office in London but admits it wouldn’t be an easy type of ride in Lisbon – “too hilly and I live a few kilometres from the Embassy”.
In his free time, Chris Sainty plans to explore Portugal “from top to bottom, including the islands”. “I like to spend my holidays walking up and down mountains, and I think there are many opportunities for that in Portugal,” he said.
“Portugal is a very peaceful country,” he said. “Both my wife and I have been so struck by the warmth and the kind welcome that we have received from the Portuguese people and that’s been an absolute joy. We’ve enjoyed our first few weeks here very much and – it goes without saying – the food and the wine are just wonderful.”
By INÊS LOPES email@example.com
Photo: INÊS LOPES/ALGARVE RESIDENT