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Overseas voters urged to have their say in the UK general election

With the UK general election taking place on June 8th, it’s important to remember to register to vote if you can and want to have your say.

Overseas voters urged to have their say in the UK general election
Britain goes to the polls on June 8th. Photo: AFP

The UK Electoral Commission is urging all expats to check whether they are still are registered to vote and those who have not already done so to do so as soon as possible.

The registration deadline is May 22nd, but if you are intending to use a postal vote then the sooner the better to ensure that there is adequate time to receive and return postal ballot packs before polling day. 

Estimates show that there could be as many as 5.5 million UK citizens living abroad but just 263,903 overseas voters appeared on the UK electoral registers as of December 1st, 2016.

That number represented a huge leap (144.2 percent) on a year earlier as overseas voters registered to have their say in the EU referendum.

“In 2016 more UK citizens living abroad were registered to vote than ever before, but many others may be eligible to vote in the June general election,” Emma Hartley, Head of Campaigns at the Electoral Commission told The Local.

“Anyone living overseas who is eligible to vote in the UK should register now, and once registered should apply to vote by proxy so they can vote from outside the UK.”

Of course, not all Britons are eligible to vote due to the so-called '15-year rule' that prevents expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in UK elections.

READ ALSO: Long term Brits in Spain set to miss out on vote in another election

But UK citizens who have been registered to vote in a UK constituency in the last 15 years may be eligible to register.

Even if you were too young to register when you left the UK, you can still register as an overseas voter, as long as a parent or guardian were registered to vote and you left the UK no more than 15 years ago.

An overseas registration is valid for 12 months, so if you took part in the Brexit referendum last June then you should still be registered and should check with your former council in the UK that your chosen voting method is still in place.

Your local Electoral Registration office should have sent you a reminder once your registration expired.

Overseas voters can choose to vote either by post or by proxy – where a trusted person is nominated to vote on behalf of another.

For the full guide on how to register, click here.

The deadline to register to vote is midnight on Monday May 22nd but don’t leave it until the last minute!

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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