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BREXIT VOTE

EUROPEAN UNION

Has bureaucracy deprived Brits abroad of their vote?

Thousands of British voters abroad might find their vote in this week's crucial referendum is wasted, after some local councils left sending out ballots until the last minute and some post offices on the continent refused to accept ballots, says George Cunningham,

Has bureaucracy deprived Brits abroad of their vote?
George Cunningham warns that many Brits abroad will have missed the chance to vote.

Around 300,000 expat Brits have registered to vote in the EU Referendum on 23rd June, three times as many as for the 2015 General Election. While this is a partial validation of the Electoral Commission’s voter registration drive, successful registration is not the same thing as successful voting.

As we’ve noted before, local British councils need to ensure overseas voters actually receive their postal ballots in time to send them back before polls close in the UK on 23rd June. The debacle of the 2015 General Election is still fresh in many minds, when many ballots were sent out late.

So we asked our Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrat members (in 22 countries) who were allowed to vote to monitor whether they received their postal votes without any glitch.

First the good news. Based on our anecdotal feedback, ballots had been received successfully from 15 local councils two weeks before the referendum: Lewisham (London); Hammersmith (London), Fulham (London), City of Westminster (London); Greenwich, South Norfolk; Poole (Dorset); Lewes (Sussex); Daventry; Dover; Kensington (London); Swansea, Haringey (London); Rushcliffe, Shepway (Folkestone), Oxford and Nottingham City. 

Now the worrying. With less than a fortnight to go, ballots had not arrived with our members from at least three councils: Taunton (Somerset), Eastleigh (which was not sending out the individual’s ballot until 15th June!) and Kettering.

We’ve asked people to stay on the case and let us know when their ballots do arrive. I had to intervene personally with the British Embassy in Brussels in light of last week’s concern that pre-franked envelopes were not being accepted by a small number of post office counters in Belgium (and Germany). The Electoral Commission issued a statement reassuring that all internationally-franked envelops are acceptable but that news clearly sometimes does not filter through to local post offices. 

We are also encouraging Brits abroad to send their ballots back with extra stamps or even by registered post, particularly if their ballot is late arriving, as a member in Portugal’s did.

In the short term, there is really no excuse for councils to be slow about sending out the ballots of overseas voters. We know they are under-resourced and dealing with an unprecedented surge in voter registration. But this referendum hasn’t taken anyone by surprise. It’s been known about for months.

In the longer term, if the Government moves ahead with its manifesto promise to lift the 15 year rule in time for the expected 2020 General Election, there needs to be a concerted effort to create a proper set of overseas constituencies, particularly important as the issues faced by expats are different from the ordinary Brit. 

The Government, Electoral Commission and local authorities all say they want to improve democratic participation. Well fine. But don’t make it difficult (or indeed impossible) for people who actually want to take part. 

Otherwise, it’s not democracy.

George Cunningham is Chair of Brits Abroad: Yes to Europe, a non-partisan 'get out the vote' initiative managed by the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats. The campaign has a Facebook page with up-to-date news about the debate. More information on the Brussels and Europe Lib Dems referendum campaign can be found by clicking here.

 

For members

BANKING

Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

UK nationals living in Spain have begun to receive letters from their bank telling them that their accounts will be closed, in an apparent post-Brexit change. Have you been affected?

Banking giant Barclays to close all accounts of Brits living in Spain

Customers of Barclays Bank who are living in Spain and other EU countries have been receiving letters telling them that their UK accounts will be closed by the end of the year. 

A number of readers of The Local’s network of news websites have contacted us to report receiving either letters or messages in their online banking telling them that their accounts would be closed because of their residency in Spain or in other countries in the EU.

A Barclays spokesperson told The Local: “As a ring fenced bank, our Barclays UK products are designed for customers within the UK.

“We will no longer be offering services to personal current account or savings customers (excluding ISAs) within the European Economic Area. We are contacting impacted customers to give them advance notice of this decision and outline the next steps they need to take.”  

Customers are being given six months to make alternative arrangements. The changes affect all personal current accounts or savings accounts, but do not affect ISAs, loans or mortgages.

During the Brexit transition period Barclays closed Barclaycard accounts of customers in Spain, but did not indicate any changes to standard bank accounts.

READ MORE: 

Around the same time several other British high street banks began closing accounts of British customers who live in the EU, although with the exception of Barclaycard customers in Spain who were largely spared.

Many UK nationals who live in Spain maintain at least one UK bank account – in addition to a Spanish account – sometimes just for savings but others use their accounts regularly to receive income such as pensions or income from rental property or – for remote workers – to receive income for work done in the UK.

Not having a UK bank account can make financial transactions in the UK more complicated or incur extra banking fees.

READ MORE: What are the best UK banks for Brits in Spain?

Since Brexit, the UK banking sector no longer has access to the ‘passporting’ system which allows banks to operate in multiple EU countries without having to apply for a separate banking licence for each country.

And it seems that many UK high street banks are deciding that the extra paperwork is not worth the hassle and are withdrawing completely from certain EU markets. 

When British banks began withdrawing services from customers in the EU back in 2020, a UK government spokesman told British newspaper The Times that “the provision of banking services is a commercial decision for firms based on a number of factors” so Brits in Spain probably shouldn’t hold their breath for any help from that direction.

READ ALSO: Premium Bond holders in Spain may have to cash in if no UK bank account

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