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Expats didn’t ‘abandon’ UK so ALL Brits should get EU vote

The notion that long term British expats don't deserve the vote in the EU referendum, because "they already voted with their feet by leaving the country" is completely skewed, argues Ben McPartland.

Expats didn't 'abandon' UK so ALL Brits should get EU vote
Photo: AFP

Tens of thousands of British expats living in the EU were left furious and frustrated on Thursday when news came through that they won’t be able to vote in the EU referendum.

Despite being the most affected by the outcome the High Court in London basically thought they were not worth the rigmarole of overturning the rule that bars those who have lived outside the UK for 15 years or longer from voting.

Almost as disappointing as the actual verdict was the response of some Brits who seemed only too happy to see their compatriots barred from voting.

Their views, which were the same as those aired before last year’s UK general election could be summed by the line: “Well, you turned your back on the UK, so you should have no say in its future.”

Because millions of Brits had left the country of their own free will, to pursue jobs or lovers or just to rest their weary legs in a place with guaranteed sun after 35 years earning their crust in the UK, then Britain was of no concern to them anymore.

“You already voted. With your feet,” read one message.

Another one read “Live in France, pay taxes in France, vote in French elections. UK has nothing to do with you.”

Except that it does.

While I firmly believe EU nationals should be able to vote in elections in the country they live rather than were born in, Europe is not quite ready for that yet, nor are many longer term expats who will always feel more tied to Britain than to their adopted country of France, Spain or wherever.

While some tell them to “go native” and get French or Spanish nationality, the reality is that many can't due to language or time restrictions and some simply don't want to out of pure principle.

That’s because many of these expats – or immigrants as we should be called – who live in France, Spain or elsewhere spent most of their working lives in Britain.

Many who moved abroad taught in British schools for their whole lives or in British hospitals, serving the British public. Their children still live in Britain and their pensions are paid by British state.

Some still have property in Britain.

They don’t pay taxes in the UK? Well they did for most of their lives and many continue to pay taxes on their pensions in the UK.

(And if its only about taxes, are these people outraged that all the French, Germans, Poles and other EU nationals paying their dues in the UK are barred from the referendum?)

So you see, they really do have something to do with the UK.

But the main point here is that this is not an election, it’s a referendum one issue, that being Britain’s place in the EU, and so directly impacts on the lives of the British nationals living in the EU.

It’s arguably Britain’s most important referendum in history and far more important than a general election to British expats.

Yet whenever we talk about the vote lockout you get the impression Brits who moved abroad are thought of almost as traitors. We are accused of wanting the best of both worlds: the sun and the sangria in Spain, but also a say in what goes on back home.

But British expats should not be blamed or punished for simply taking advantage of the rules of the EU, that Britain signed up to.

We were encouraged to move freely throughout the EU. We were encouraged to look abroad for work or love.

We’d be forgiven for thinking these rules would be permanent, given that moving abroad is no easy feat, but now they are at risk, at the very least we deserve a say in whether things change.

What makes it more galling to those expats who can’t vote is the feeling that their lives could be hugely affected by British voters who have no real idea of or interest in the benefits of the EU.

That may be unfair, but that’s the problem with referendums and David Cameron has to answer for that if things go awry.

And Cameron has more to answer for than that.

In the run up to last election his party promised that if the Conservatives won the election they would scrap the 15-year limit on voting, because they too believe it’s unfair.

His party had over a year to get the change through parliament, but failed to do so. They could even have made an exception by allowing all foreign UK residents to vote by making an exception in the referendum bill, but declined to do so.

That’s why long term British expats feel let down.

The reality is Barack Obama looks like having more of an influence on the Brexit referendum than tens of thousands of British nationals, who will remain locked out of the vote.

That's a travesty.

 

 

 

 

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BREXIT

INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

A group of lawyers is campaigning for a new visa which would allow non-resident British second-homeowners in Spain to freely enjoy their properties post-Brexit without having to show the high level of savings currently required.

INTERVIEW: The lawyers calling for a better visa for British homeowners in Spain

As most Britons are now fully aware of, since Brexit came into force, UK nationals who aren’t EU residents can only spend 90 days out of 180 days in Spain and the Schengen Area.

This has proven very problematic for Britons who own a second home in Spain who, when purchasing their Spanish properties, were under the impression they would always be able to split their time freely and flexibly between the UK and Spain without having to become Spanish residents (as long as they respected Spain’s residency and fiscal rules).

It used to be an ideal situation for these ‘part-year dwellers’, the best of both worlds some may argue, but the UK’s exit from the EU has complicated things enormously for them. 

Estimates based on Spanish government data suggest that in 2020 the number of Britons who owned property in Spain was anywhere between 800,000 and 1 million.

There are now 407,000 UK nationals who are residents in Spain in 2022, and although there is no exact data on the number of Britons who own or rent property long-term in Spain without being residents, it could easily be in the hundreds of thousands. 

READ ALSO: Is it true Britons are leaving Spain ‘in droves’ after Brexit as UK tabloids claims?

They are undoubtedly of great economic importance to some parts of Spain, as evidenced by the Valencian government’s announcement last November that they would push the national Tourism Ministry to make it easier for non-resident British nationals to spend more than 90 out of 180 days in the region without having to apply for a visa.

There hasn’t been a public update on this front since, but Spanish law firm Costaluz Lawyers has recently put the issue back on the table, proposing a new type of visa for British second-home owners. 

The Local Spain spoke to María Luisa Castro, the lawyer who’s been leading the campaign, to learn more about it.

“We propose a new visa that caters to British property buyers who want to live in Spain but don’t have the necessary funds for the current visa options,” Castro explained. 

“We’d like to make it very simple with just two main requirements. Firstly, applicants would have to show that they have owned a property in Spain for at least three years and secondly that they have proof of an income of at least €1,130 a month, roughly half the funds required for the non-lucrative visa”.

Castro also stressed that as part of this potential visa, applicants should have to fulfil conditions for health insurance and have a clean criminal record, a standard practice for most Spanish residence visas.

“But the main condition would be property ownership and sufficient funds,” Castro emphasized.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

The campaign calls on British second homeowners to sign a petition to get the Spanish government to listen to the proposal and meet demands.

“We need 500,000 signatures in order for the issue to be discussed by the Spanish government, but we are also gathering signatures to give these people a voice and create awareness. We hope to be able to lobby both the UK and the Spanish governments to start bilateral negotiations” she explained.

Castro believes that there is definitely a need for this type of visa, especially for Britons, who now have to deal with stricter rules and have fewer options since they became non-EU nationals after Brexit.

“There are thousands of British property owners in Spain who bought their properties many years ago as second homes, but also as a place for future retirement or for health reasons,” she said.  

Crucially, even though the petition states non-EU citizens, Castro believes that it should really only be made available to Britons.

“It is not simply the fact that they are homeowners that means they should be considered for a new type of visa, but the fact that they had full-time ownership rights in the past, which makes the current restriction a loss of acquired rights”.  

In other words, Castro argues that those from other non-EU countries bought properties in Spain knowing that they could only stay 90 days out of every 180, but those from the UK bought them on the basis that they would have greater flexibility in this regard.  

“We hope that a visa which requires proof of finances, plus the evidence of being a homeowner with a retirement plan in Spain will be sufficient,” she said.

Another lawyer, Fernando del Canto, from Del Canto Chambers law firm, has previously argued that ownership plus health and retirement associated rights are being infringed upon by the Schengen limitations as per the European Human Rights Convention (EHRC). “A bilateral or reciprocal agreement between the UK and Spain on this particular matter is needed,” he said. 

The EHRC states that “every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions. No one shall be deprived of their possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law”.

Judging by the above, it is open to interpretation as to whether it means that Britons’ rights are being infringed upon or not.

Nonetheless, Castro believes that the 90-day rule has had a huge negative impact on British non-resident homeowners and on Spain itself.

“We are frequently contacted by clients desperate to keep staying here for longer periods, as part of an acquired lifestyle and for health reasons. Now they need to explore the possibilities of the non-lucrative visa, which on many occasions, they cannot afford”. 

She believes there is a risk that Britons could stop buying in Spain, “particularly those who bought a property for retirement”, and that many of her British clients have already felt forced to sell their Spanish properties because of Brexit limitations.

READ ALSO: What worries British second home owners in Spain most about Brexit

Britons have historically accounted for the largest group of foreign property buyers in Spain. In 2018, they represented 24.3 percent of the market share. The figure dropped to 20 percent in 2019 and by late 2021 Germans had surpassed Britons as the main foreign buyers in Spain.

This however may have had more to do with Spain’s coronavirus restrictions for non-EU travellers and the UK’s own complex traffic-light system than only as a consequence of Brexit, as in early 2022 UK nationals were back at the top of the property podium again.

So despite the new setbacks, it appears that Spain is still an attractive location for budding British second-home owners, but perhaps more so now for those who can afford the golden visa or non-lucrative visa. 

But how likely is it that such legislation will be approved?

READ ALSO: Can Spain legally offer more than 90 days to Britons?

Castro firmly believes that the Spanish government will listen to foreign homeowners’ demands. “If we get a good number of signatures and the UK government is also lobbied, it will create awareness. Retired people are an increasing source of economic strength for our country.

“Currently, only those buying properties over €500,000 can apply for residency based on property purchase (through the golden visa). Other EU countries have lower financial thresholds”, she explained.

READ ALSO: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

Castro encourages second homeowners to do whatever they can to help this visa proposal become a reality, as well as signing the petition.

She advises them to make their voices heard through blog posts, newspaper articles and writing to local politicians.

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