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BREXIT

Four out of five British expats fear Brexit will strip them of rights to live abroad

Most British expatriates in the European Union are chiefly concerned that Brexit will strip them of their rights to live in their adopted country, according to the latest survey published on Wednesday.

Four out of five British expats fear Brexit will strip them of rights to live abroad

Around 83 percent of respondents said they were “very concerned” about the impact Brexit could have on the rights and benefits they enjoyed as an EU citizen, while only 3.8 percent answered “not at all”.

The survey of 5,000 Britons living in EU countries or Iceland, Norway and Switzerland was carried out by the European branch of the British Liberal Democrat party, which campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU.

The majority of respondents (57.6 percent) said that they had voted to Remain in the June referendum and only two percent said they voted to leave the EU.

More than a quarter of respondents (28.4 percent) said they had been unable to vote because they had lived outside the UK for over 15 years.

Over 58 percent said they did not plan to return to Britain, while 33.5 percent said they did not know. Only 7.7 percent said they had plans to return permanently to the UK.

Respondents said they wanted to retain the rights that came with EU membership, such as to reside in their countries of choice without permission, freedom of movement, and health care.

OPINION: Brexit and Brits in the EU: Bargaining chip or afterthought?

The majority of the survey group live in France or Spain and are aged between 55-74 years old.

Not surprisingly, the right to reside, automatic pension increases and S1 healthcare concerns were the top three concerns for Brits living in Spain and France.

The UK government has consistently said it will not act unilaterally to guarantee the right of three million EU citizens to remain in the UK until it has agreement that the EU 27 will do the same for the estimated 1.3 million UK nationals living in the EU.

Laura Shields, Chair of Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats said: “UK politicians must accept that the ‘right to reside' is not the same as an actual ability to stay.  Losing their EU citizenship will bring a myriad of practical problems for Brits in the EU which can’t be fixed in a quick quid pro quo residency deal with the EU 27. The government must think this through properly and ensure it doesn't throw us under Boris’s Brexit blunder bus.”

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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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