Portugal staying on course

The centuries-old Anglo-Portuguese alliance is sure to continue even though the United Kingdom looks like it will soon be saying farewell to Portugal and the other 26 member states of the European Union.

Generally regarded as the world’s oldest alliance still in force, it was signed in 1386 between the Kingdom of Portugal and the Kingdom of England. The name “United Kingdom” only came into being centuries later.

Nowadays, however, the United Kingdom is far from united – especially politically – and it also looks like downsizing in the not too distant future.

The Brexit debacle seems likely to result not just in the UK’s departure from the European Union but also in the departure of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the UK.

In the 2016 “remain or leave” referendum, a majority in both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.

Infuriated by the attitude of the London-based parliament, the Scottish National Party is fast gearing up for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

In Northern Ireland, the demographics indicate that a small but growing majority of the population are in favour of quitting the UK and uniting with the Republic of Ireland.

Another group of people who look like opting out of the UK are many of the Portuguese immigrants who live there. Portugal wants them back home.

The percentage of Portuguese citizens living abroad is one of the highest in the world and a lot of them are young. So, Portugal has one of the lowest birth rates in the world and is struggling economically with an ageing population.

Many skilled and unskilled working Portuguese emigrated during the debt crisis and the harsh austerity inflicted on the country between 2011 and 2014. They left because unemployment was so high, wages were so low, and the future looked so bleak.

While Portuguese emigrants are happy with conditions in a number of foreign countries both inside and outside the EU, the bitter internal squabbling about Brexit over the past three years has created worrying uncertainties among working people and their families in the UK, as well as those back home relying on remittances.

But over the same period, Portugal’s gross domestic product has rebounded to pre-crisis levels and unemployment has dropped.

Nonetheless, even though the economic situation and employment opportunities have greatly improved, not all emigrants want to return.

By way of encouragement, the previous Socialist government introduced incentives such as cash grants and tax breaks.

Company directors hope this will help fill a serious shortage of specialist staff in virtually all business sectors.

So concerned is Prime Minister António Costa that during the recent formal inauguration of the Socialist Party’s second term in government, he announced that demographic sustainability in this country was one of his top priorities.

Tourism has been buoying the Portuguese economy in recent years and British holidaymakers are expected to continue flooding in regardless of the eventual outcome of Brexit.

Some British residents have already sold up and returned to the UK, while others are holding their breath despite assurances from both the Portuguese and British governments that they will continue to be welcome here.

Uncertainties about continued residency or moving to Portugal will persist until the whole Brexit mess is sorted out.

Meanwhile, Portugal is staying on course. Its centuries-old alliance will remain in place regardless of Brexit, as will its staunch loyalty to the European Union.


Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt