Although more than 1,000 expats per day in Spain alone have been going online in a bid to register to vote in the upcoming EU referendum, lobby groups believe tens of thousands could miss out on the chance to have their say.
“The registration for overseas UK nationals has been a bit of cock up to say the least,” warned Laura Sandys, chair of European Movement, a lobby group campaigning to keep Britain within the European Union.
She said a lack of clarity had left many expat voters confused about the final deadline and said the European Movement was “seeking urgent clarification from the Electoral Commission”.
“We have a major problem when it comes to the end date for registration which is now May 16th, except it’s not the 16th of May because the deadline has now been extended,” she told The Local.
“I’m extremely concerned as to whether the local authorities have the resources to all the research that is required to ensure that when people do send in their forms that they are turned around quickly and I feel very strongly that we need to ensure that British government absolutely gives the right resources to make this happen,” she said.
“Ultimately it’s down to those people living across Europe to get onto the government website and register to vote, get active and get your name in there before the 16th because that is the absolute guaranteed copper bottom cut off,” she urged.
“EU membership has helped some two million British citizens to live and work in other EU countries – something that used to be reserved for the few,” Sandys explained.
“Their basic rights to reside in any EU country, to work, or to access education and health care are guaranteed under EU law. All this is under threat from a Brexit.”
Only British expats that have been registered on the UK electoral roll within the last 15 years are entitled to vote and must meet the May 16th deadline to register for a postal vote in the EU Referendum.
However, those that miss the deadline can still register for a proxy vote by choosing someone in the UK to vote on their behalf.
“If you register to vote by May 16th it should be easier to vote by post, as postal votes for the referendum will be sent out earlier than usual, giving you more time to receive, complete, and return your ballot pack to the UK,” explained Alex Robertson, Director of Communications at the Electoral Commission.
“If you wish to vote by proxy, bear in mind that the person you choose to vote on your behalf must be registered and eligible to vote at the referendum.
“The EU Referendum is going to be a significant event and we know lots of UK citizens will want to make their voices heard. Please spread the word. You can go to www.aboutmyvote.co.uk for more information.”
Simon Manley, the British Ambassador in Madrid urged expats in Spain not to miss their chance.
British Ambassador Simon Manley. Photo: FCO
“Ultimately, it is for the British people to decide whether we should remain in or leave the European Union, but, whatever they think on the issue, I would appeal to my fellow Brits in Spain not to miss the chance to have their say in this once-in-a-generation referendum.”
An estimated half of British expats in Spain who are eligible to vote in the UK still remain unaware that they can go online to register to vote, according to a survey by expat website AngloInfo, carried out for the Electoral Commission.
There are an estimated five million UK citizens abroad, 2.3 million of them residing in the EU and with the race between the Brexit and the Remain camps currently neck and neck, the expat votes could sway the decision.