With only a month to go before Brexit, many British people living in Portugal have been concerned as to their future status here. There has been a rush to get residency certificates and some people have even taken out dual nationality … just in case.
I have been reassuring worried friends by saying: “The Portuguese will not throw the British out! There has been a relationship between the two countries for far too long and there are too many British people living in Portugal to be chucked out!”
There are almost 23,000 British citizens registered as residents in Portugal with almost 40,000 actually living here! The Portuguese government has advised anyone who is not legally registered to do so before March 29! Five-year residencies are obtainable at the local council and these are then replaced by the permanent 10-year residency cards obtained from SEF, the immigration and borders service.
Whilst the Portuguese Foreign Minister has stated that the British can stay here and keep their current status and rights, there is the understanding that the 400,000 Portuguese living in the UK will receive from “our old British ally” a reciprocal treatment, with the British government affording them the same residency rights.
I have spent most of my life going back and forth to the UK. My sisters and I grew up living near Lisbon, going back to the UK for summer holidays to spend time with our English grandparents. My parents never acquired for us Portuguese or dual nationality (my father was Portuguese) because, at the time, my mother wanted to keep our UK passports so we could get out the country if there was ever any ‘trouble’.
Remember that until April 25, 1974 we lived under a dictatorial regime run with the help of the feared efficient secret police, the PIDE! When the ‘trouble’ came with the revolution in 1974, it was no trouble at all for us and we continued to live here happily, going to the local Portuguese schools and being totally integrated in the Portuguese community, except that, looking so English, we stood out like a sore thumb! There was never a time when we were made to feel unwelcome and growing up in Portugal was wonderful.
Did you know there have been English people living in Portugal since 1147 when English crusaders sailing to the Holy land were forced by bad weather to stop in Porto? They agreed to help King D. Afonso Henriques in the conquest of Lisbon, with the understanding that they could pillage the city and receive ransom money for the prisoners.
When the Moors surrendered after four months, many of the crusaders settled in Lisbon, with English monk Gilbert Hastings being elected as the first bishop of Lisbon. Thus, began the long-standing relationship between England and Portugal who have the oldest alliance in the world, which is still in force. It is the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance which was ratified at the Treaty of Windsor in 1386 and has stood strong ever since, with the two countries agreeing to cooperate on trade and supporting each other through various wars.
John of Gaunt, the son of King Edward III of England, further ratified the alliance by allowing his daughter Philippa of Lancaster to marry King João I of Portugal in February 1387. They had several children including the renowned Prince Henry the Navigator who led Portugal on its successful voyages of discovery.
In the 16th century, England fought against the Spanish to help restore Portugal’s independence and another royal marriage again sealed the alliance in 1661 when King Charles II married Catarina of Bragança, the daughter of Portugal’s King João IV.
Catarina is credited with introducing the British to tea drinking which was popular with the Portuguese nobility! England benefitted from Catarina’s dowry by acquiring Tangier in North Africa and the Seven Islands of Bombay, which became paramount in the development of the British Empire in India. It also gained trading privileges with Brazil and the East Indies. In return, Portugal received military and naval support.
In 1703, the two countries once again joined forces to fight against France and Spain and the smallest treaty in the history of diplomatic European relations, the Treaty of Methuen, was signed.
It only had three clauses with the King of Portugal promising in his name, and those of his successors, to allow English woolen cloth to enter into Portugal free of duty, whilst Portuguese wines imported into England would be subject to less duty than French wines which had, in any case, become scarce due to England’s war with France. This led to the growth of Portugal’s port industry.
In the First World War, the Anglo-Portuguese alliance meant that the two countries fought together and Portugal was neutrally supportive of Britain during the Boer War, World War II and the Falklands War.
For over 800 years, Portugal’s foreign policy has featured political and economic cooperation with Great Britain. Even now with Brexit, the Portuguese government is being proactive by already taking steps to ensure little disruption to the British community in case of a no-deal exit.
With nearly three million British visitors coming here yearly, Portugal is a popular holiday destination, although since the Brexit vote in 2016, visitor numbers have decreased by over 250,000. The Portuguese have also always seen Britain as the land of opportunity, and it is the top country for Portuguese looking to emigrate to a better life. Again, since 2016 these numbers have dropped by over 26%.
I have been very surprised by the number of British people who either live or have houses here that agree with the UK leaving the EU. With such strong connections in Europe, this seems rather baffling to me. Not only does the lower exchange rate affect residents here who have their pensions in sterling, but holidaymakers pay more to visit and have less to spend!
My heart has always been more Portuguese, and I am so glad my children had the opportunity to grow up here, too. They are more Portuguese than English and are totally aligned to their Portuguese roots and culture.
For my family, the Portuguese-Anglo connection will always be strong, and we hope that future generations will also have the opportunity to enjoy the best of both countries like we did and still do.
Britain may be leaving the EU, but I bet you many Britons will still want to come here on holiday to partake of our wonderful Portuguese lifestyle!
So now you know!
By Isobel Costa
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Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.