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BREXIT

‘A less hard Brexit’: Brits in Spain react to UK election result

Spain's prime minister welcomed Theresa May's victory, while left-wing politicians congratulated Jeremy Corbyn on his astounding result. Meanwhile British residents in Spain hoped the result would signal a softer stance on Brexit.

'A less hard Brexit': Brits in Spain react to UK election result
Theresa May outside Number 10 on Friday morning. Photo: AFP

Spanish Prime Minister congratulated May on “her electoral victory” and said “we will continue to work for a fruitful relationship in the interest of the people”.

Spain has its own experience of a hung parliament and the difficulties that brings in forming a government.

Mariano Rajoy finally secured a minority government in September 2016 after ten long months of political deadlock and two general elections failed to give him majority rule.

The British election results competed with news of Spain’s own looming troubles, as Catalonia’s president announced plans to hold a referendum on independence for the region in October.

Those on the left in Spain, including Pedro Sanchez, the leader of Spain’s Socialists (PSOE)  and Pablo Iglesias were quick to congratulate Britain's Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who defied critics and vicious personal attacks in the press to gain seats.

 

And British nationals living in Spain were reading plenty into the election result.

Members of the anti-Brexit Bremain in Spain group suggested the result could curtail Theresa May's plans to bring about a so-called hard Brexit.

“She hasn't got the mandate that she expected and hopefully the opposition parties and few Tory Remainers will curtail her Brexit madness and she will have to really consider the rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK and make them more of a priority. We hope,” wrote Carol Irving on the Bremain in Spain Facebook page.

Another wrote: “Feeling more optimistic. Very pleased that the UK has rejected austerity and the desecration of our public services, and hopefully staying in the open market.”

“With regard my situation here, I of course hope that this result means a less hard Brexit, allowing my Spanish friends to stay in the UK, allowing EU NHS workers to continue on in Britain and for myself to stay here in Spain,” said Fiona Locke.

Photo: AFP

Others suggested that result was not as positive as it first seemed, and expressed concern.

“No its not the best outcome. The best outcome would have been LibDem having much more seats. The next best outcome would have been Labour have the highest number of seats but not a majority,” said Lawrence Baron on the Bremain in Spain Facebook page.

“What we have now is a wounded Tory party in govt and a labour leader who has more influence on Brexit then he ought to have. This is now a two front war,” he said.

READ ALSO How Swedes reacted to UK election: 'Could be messy'

Another commented: “Well if Theresa May has her way, and she's just stated it's business as usual, and Brexit going ahead, we are losing everything, looks as though nothing has changed, but have to wait and see if other MP's will stand up and fight for our rights in the EU, and EU immigrants’ rights in UK, and fight against all the detrimental cuts etc in the Tory manifesto. Am not happy.”

Brits living in the eurozone, especially pensioners who receive their income from the UK in pounds have been hit hard since Brexit and the pound again nose-dived with the election result, dropping from €1.34 to €1.13 on Thursday night.

“My desire for May to step down presently overrides any personal losses caused by a weaker GBP against EUR,” wrote Jo Chipchase. “The best possible outcome would be to have the rights of British citizens in EU countries and EU citizens in the UK secured asap and to see any idea of a hard Brexit scrapped!”

Indeed, what remains clear is the desire by those 3.5 million EU citizens in Britain and 1.2 million UK nationals on the continent to have their citizens’ rights after Brexit secured.

“The EU has made a generous, unilateral offer to UK citizens in the EU and is prepared to guarantee the vast majority of our rights,” said Jane Golding, the chair of the British in Europe Coalition in a statement released by the group on Friday.

“Now the election is over, we need urgently to know the UK’s response to that offer so we can see an end to the uncertainty facing thousands of families.”

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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