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BREXIT

Brits in Spain fear post-Brexit backlash and want their voices heard

British people who have made Spain their home are fearful that they will suffer a post-Brexit backlash over the UK government’s treatment of foreigners , and are anxious to make their voice heard.

Brits in Spain fear post-Brexit backlash and want their voices heard
Photo: Gemma Middleton / Change.org

As details emerged of an EU report that assesses the future status of 1.2 million Britons residing in EU countries, hundreds of Brits living in Spain signed an open letter to the citizens of Spain and its government calling for understanding.

“We adore Spain, love living in our adopted country and feel blessed to be here, ” wrote Gemma Middleton, a documentary film maker living in Valencia who started the petition on Change.org.

She felt it was important that Spain heard the voice of those Brits who did not vote to leave the EU and want to remain in Spain as members of their adoptive country.

“We all want to remain living here in Spain and we will work side by side with you to make sure that we can continue to do so.”

The letter was published on Change.org just hours before an EU study warned that Brits would likely face difficulty remaining in their adopted countries post-Brexit, according to a leaked EU document seen by British newspaper The Guardian.

The leaked paper said that the future status of Brits in the EU will be a matter for each individual member state after the UK leaves the union in 2019 and that as the UK makes it hard for foreigners to gain residency Brits may suffer reciprocity.

“The fact that it appears to be particularly difficult for foreign nationals, even if married to UK nationals or born in the UK, to acquire permanent residence status or British nationality may colour member states' approach to this matter,” the document says. 

Middleton, who has become an outspoken campaigner for Bremain in Spain, said it was very important in light of the leaked EU document, that Brits in Spain spoke up.

“We all feel very blessed to be part of a tolerant country that has welcomed us all,” states the open letter.

“We ask that you believe in us, do not judge us, but treat us as individuals who have embraced the Spanish culture, way of life and people,” the letter continues in both English and Spanish.

“We work, we live and we have educated our children into the Spanish way of life, and the retirees have adopted Spain as their main primary residence due to the democratic, non- xenophobic and easy going lifestyle that the Spanish people have so kindly offered them.”

It adds: “We are ashamed of the treatment Spanish nationals are receiving in the UK.”

“Please hear us as individuals and take no notice of the biased views of the UK government. Theresa May is not representing us all.”

The petition has already garnered over 500 signatures in 24 hours.

Mark Summers explained why he signed the open letter.

“I call upon Spain to allow myself and my fellow ex-pat British nationals to continue to live our lives as free European Citizens, to go about our days without any undue pressure from the UK government nor from xenophobic Britons that do not represent myself nor my friends living outside the UK,” he wrote.

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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