Survey: Could Brits in Europe put the brakes on Brexit?

How will Brits abroad vote in the "Brexit" referendum? The Local surveyed more than 2,700 people across Europe to find out.

Survey: Could Brits in Europe put the brakes on Brexit?
Photo: Leon Neal / AFP.

Britain’s upcoming referendum on whether to remain in the EU will have a huge effect on the 2 million Brits living in Europe – and many of these expats have a right to vote.

But will they, and if so, how? The Local surveyed more than 2,700 people across Europe to find out what these expats were thinking.

Our survey revealed that, with over two months to go until the referendum date, 94 percent had already made up their minds: 67 percent were firmly in the ‘Remain’ camp, while 28 percent were planning to vote ‘Leave’.

“This survey shows the overwhelming consensus among Brits living abroad for remaining in Europe,” James McGrory, chief campaign spokesman of Britain Stronger In Europe told The Local.

Expat Maura Hillen, a former Surrey resident and current local councillor in Albox, Almeria, told The Local that a top concern for Brits in Spain is what a Brexit would mean for them financially – what would it mean for their pensions or paying taxes? How would they navigate buying property in Spain as non-EU citizens?

“It’s a much tougher decision-making process for a British person who lives abroad… It potentially impacts expats more heavily,” said Hillen.

“If we lived in the UK we might think differently, but when you live abroad, I think the financial risks are bigger.”

Hillen is herself an Irish national, married to a British man who “certainly made sure he registered to vote”, but is also the leader of the AUAN group that advocates for the rights of British homeowners in Spain.

“A lot of Brits own property here,” Hillen said of the southern Spanish region she has called home for roughly a decade.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about how it would pan out.”

When contacted by The Local, a Vote Leave press officer said she was not in a position to comment on expat voters or the impact of the referendum on Brits living abroad.

A spokesman for the Better Off Out campaign, who did not wish to be named, said that their group hadn't had any contact with British expats.

“I can't make a judgment on how expats would be affected by the referendum result – individuals can make their own minds up,” the spokesperson said. “We are concentrating on making a positive case to all voters and hope that those who wish to vote will recognize the benefits for the UK.”

Hillen said that there are many Brits in Spain who lean towards the Leave side because they're worried about uncontrolled immigration, even though they are also immigrants.

“There is a lot of concern generated about the impact of immigration in the UK and I think that that gets a knee jerk reaction from people, even though they themselves are immigrants and don’t always speak the language here,” she said. “There are many ironies in that debate.”

As a full EU member, British people can travel, live and work freely across Europe, and they’re entitled to free healthcare if something goes wrong.

“If we left, no-one can guarantee that would continue,” McGrory (from the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign) said. “The Leave campaigns’ plan for Britain – to pull the UK economy out of the single market altogether – could see every British ex-pat’s automatic right to live abroad thrown into doubt.”   

Will people actually vote from abroad?

In order to be able to vote in the referendum, expats need to hold a British passport and to have been resident in the UK within the last 15 years.

But just under a quarter of our overall respondents fit the criteria – a total of 673 people. And of those who had the right to cast a vote, an overwhelming majority (86 percent) said they were planning to do so.

For those in the survey who were not planning to vote, the main reason for abstaining (selected by 49 percent of the non-voters) was that it was too complicated to register.

Meanwhile, 11 percent felt that their vote did not matter, while seven percent didn’t think they would be affected by the outcome of the referendum and a further seven percent did not understand enough about the issue.

Of those who intended to vote in the referendum, only 75 percent had already registered – and of the remaining 25 percent, a majority (68 percent) did not know how to vote.

If you are an expat living in the EU and want to have your say in the referendum but don't know how, read our ten-point guide to registering here

Some 58 percent of survey respondents said they would be trying to persuade others to vote in a certain way – so don’t be surprised if you find the referendum an increasingly popular topic among your expat contacts.

The most popular method for trying to sway their friends’ votes was in conversation (84 percent), while 46 percent said they would take to social media to spread the word.

“Whatever decision people make, they should make it by being clear-headed and informed,” Hillen said, “and what's most important is to vote, of course.”

Reporting and writing by Catherine Edwards and Emma Anderson

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Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

The Spanish government has confirmed that it will not extend its reciprocal healthcare agreements with Gibraltar, meaning that from July 1st 2022, it will come to an end.

Reciprocal healthcare agreements between Spain and Gibraltar end

When the UK left the EU on December 31st 2020, both sides agreed that the UK’s EHIC European healthcare cards could still be used until their expiry dates.

This card provided British travellers with free state-provided medical care in the EU in case of emergencies.

Beyond their five year period of validity, EHIC cards are no longer valid and travellers have to apply for the new Global Heath Insurance Card (GHIC) instead. 

Spain made a separate agreement with Gibraltar under its Royal Brexit Decree in which unilateral arrangements would be maintained in the territory and extended until June 30th 2022.

During the meeting of the Spanish Council of Ministers on Tuesday, the Spanish Government decided not to extend the agreement further, meaning that residents of Gibraltar will no longer be able to benefit from it.

In a statement the government of Gibraltar said: “It would have been HMGoG’s preference for these arrangements, which deeply affect citizens on either side of the border on matters as essential as healthcare, to have been maintained. Indeed, HMGoG was prepared to continue with them”.

“However, because reciprocity is a key element to these arrangements which cannot work without coordination and provisions for reimbursement of costs etc., HMGoG is left with no option but to discontinue them also in so far as treatment in Gibraltar is concerned,” it continued. 

What does this mean?

Gibraltar residents insured under Gibraltar’s Group Practice Medical Scheme will, after 30th June 2022, no longer be able to access free emergency healthcare in Spain during a temporary stay in the country. 

Those who are residents in Spain who travel over to Gibraltar will not have access to free healthcare on The Rock either. 

As a consequence, if a resident of Gibraltar falls ill or has an accident while over the border in Spain or the same for a Spanish resident in Gibraltar, they will have to pay for healthcare.

The government of Gibraltar is encouraging its citizens from July 1st 2022 to have appropriate travel insurance with medical cover each time they visit Spain.

This means that even those who are hopping over the border for few hours such as for a shopping trip or going out for dinner will have to make sure that they have adequate health insurance. 

“Where medical attention is required the costs incurred may be considerable, so you should ensure you have adequate insurance cover or alternatively the means to pay,” the Gibraltar government said in their statement.