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EUROPEAN UNION

British expats: have your say in this historic decision

Many Brits abroad have the right to vote on Britain's future in the EU. They should use it, David Lidington, British Europe Minister, writes for The Local.

British expats: have your say in this historic decision
British Europe Minister, David Lidington, says Brits should register to vote. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

One of the most historic decisions the UK will make for a generation is in just a few weeks. On Thursday 23 June the British people will vote in a referendum to decide whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union. 

I am convinced that we will be stronger, safer and better off remaining in a reformed EU, rather than out on our own.

But this is a decision for you, the British people, not me or any other politician. The outcome of this referendum will affect not only your life, but the lives of your children and grand-children. So whatever you think, make sure you have your say. 

We know that British citizens living overseas are more interested in this poll than any before. Already more of you have registered to vote than in total for last year’s General Election. But this is still just a fraction of the millions of British people who live overseas and are eligible to vote. That’s why we are supporting the Electoral Commission to help our eligible citizens all over the world to register to vote. 

So what is stopping you? Maybe you think you are not eligible? You are, as long as you have been registered to vote in the UK within the last 15 years. Or maybe you think the process will be too complicated? It’s not – it is easier than ever, and takes just five minutes online. You need your passport and National Insurance number, then go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote (or search for ‘UK register to vote’).

SURVEY OF THE LOCAL'S READERS: Could Brits in Europe put the brakes on Brexit?

Perhaps you are worried about your voting papers not reaching you in time? We have been working with the Electoral Commission to get ballot packs sent out much earlier than for previous polls, with enough return postage. So as long as you register by 16 May, your vote should make it back to the UK in time to be counted. If you live in a country where the postal system is particularly slow or unreliable, then you can appoint a proxy, where someone you trust votes in the UK on your behalf. 

Or perhaps you think this referendum doesn’t matter? This decision will affect your loved ones living back in the UK. And this decision affects you: in this modern world you may live or work overseas for a few years, then go back to Britain. Some of you have spent a lifetime working in and contributing to the UK. Most still have deep ties; whether family, property, drawing a pension, or the prospect of returning. Regardless of your story, it is clear that we all have something at stake.

Finally, don’t assume that because you voted in the General Election last year that you are still registered to vote – you have to renew your registration every year. 

Whatever you think, and whatever method you choose, don’t miss the opportunity to have your say in this historic decision, which will affect all of us and our families for decades to come.  

 Rt Hon David Lidington MP is the British Government’s Minister of State for Europe.

SEE ALSO: Ben McPartland: Expats didn't 'abandon' UK so ALL Brits should get EU vote

 

 

BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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