One Brit’s European tour to spell ‘Stop Brexit’ with GPS

Andy Pardy, who grew up in Germany, has carved an ‘O’ in the Arctic Circle, an ‘S’ that starts in a Scottish loch and wraps around Ireland and slept amidst wild dogs in Romania.

One Brit's European tour to spell 'Stop Brexit' with GPS
Andy Pardy's Volkswagen van parked beside Lake Djupvatnet in Norway. Photo: Andy Pardy

Pardy’s The Last European Tour isn’t your average political statement. The former management consultant is driving nearly 20,000 miles in his van across 33 countries in Europe this summer. The resulting map of his journey, seen through GPS coordinates, will spell the phrase ‘STOP BREXIT.’ 

“The overwhelming reason why I did this is personal,” Andy Pardy, 28, told The Local in an interview from Greece, as he was preparing to continue his journey by crossing into Bulgaria. As of Thursday, September 20th, he's in Lake Iseo in Italy. “After the Brexit vote I felt powerless. I haven’t been able to participate or assist and I just wanted to do something.”

Even before beginning his journey, Pardy possessed a pan-European background. He grew up in Celle, a riverside small town in Lower Saxony, and has also lived and worked in Spain. 

Fuelled by a small budget – and a lot of motivation

Armed with nothing but a van, a GPS and a £5,000 budget, Andy decided he’d undertake the Odyssean journey that will eventually lead him to the four corners of Europe. 

Andy travelled most of the journey alone – his partner Katie joined him for large chunks of continental Europe though – although he has never really been short of friends along the way. “My inbox is full of offers for places to stay and lunch invites,” says the former management consultant, who quit his job to undertake the European epic tour. 

“I just arrived in Italy yesterday but the sunset by lake Iseo last night was incredible, maybe one of the best so far!” he told The Local on Thursday.

The unassuming Brit says he has been overwhelmed by the press coverage his journey has received. Besides hundreds of emails of encouragement and offers of support from from EU-based residents, Andy has been inundated by press requests. The largest daily in Finland wrote about his journey. The press in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and France have also all shown a key interest.

Film crews from France and Germany are still hoping to catch a glimpse of the now famous white Volkswagen van as Andy drives on towards his final destination in Bilbao, Spain. He's also been asked to visit several schools and political events.

“I started in Scotland in Loch Lomond,” he recalls. Further itineraries in the UK and Ireland completed the ‘S’-shaped route and saw Andy cross over to mainland Europe. 

The ‘T’ was drawn by driving through “incredible landscapes” in Sweden and Norway, recalls Andy. “For the ‘O’ I went near the Arctic Circle, and for ‘P’ to the Finnish and Swedish Lapland and the north of Norway,” Andy told The Local.

This scenery was one of the journey’s highlights, he says. “I never thought I’d do anything like that,” added the driving crusader. “It’s hard enough to visit, let alone by van.”

Spelling out the exit

The journey will end in Spain next month in October – after he writes his own ‘exit’ across the European continent.

So far, the route for the word ‘Stop’ took in the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia. Andy and his van then persevered from Finland into Estonia, then Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and into Slovakia towards Europe’s south – a route whose GPS coordinates will eventually spell the word ‘Brexit.’

The letters are now getting more complicated, with long haul routes bending backwards and forwards in Europe needed to spell the letters ‘B,’ ‘R’ and ‘E.’ 

The word ‘Brexit’ is being spelt backwards, not as a nod to the chaos in the ongoing negotiations but for climactic reasons: Andy wanted to conclude his journey in October in Spain, a country he loves and would like to settle in. 

The British journeyman says he has hardly encountered any obstacles along his adventure. The bureaucratic difficulties he experienced trying to enter Belarus, a third country for EU purposes, only served to highlight how easy it was to travel to and from 26 EU Member States without any visas or an international driving license. He has only skipped two EU Member States, Cyprus and Malta, as “they are not exactly easy to reach by van.” 

“Another highlight has been the beautiful capital cities of Eastern Europe: Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw,” adds Andy, whose next destination is Chamonix in Mont Blanc in France. 

“Travelling down from Lithuania into Poland and then crossing into the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia was also great. I had no idea how big and vast the Tatra Mountains are before I went,” he told The Local. “Romania was the real hidden gem,” he says. Medieval cities in Transylvania, such as Sibiu, and the national parks opened his eyes to a “beautiful country.” 

“Free camping with wild dogs and other animals in Romania was an experience too” he adds. Andy also drove on what the Top Gear team once labelled “the world’s best road,” the Transfăgărășan in the Carpathian Mountains. 

“I don’t pretend to be an expert on all the intricacies surrounding Brexit,” he says, adding that his GPS slogan is unlikely to stop Brexit. Yet the welcome he has received across the European continent has reinforced his idea that open borders can challenge the appeal of sovereignty. 

Hundreds of messages have flooded in to Andy’s inbox but conversations on the road have also been an insight. “In Greece it has been interesting talking to people about their opinions of the EU. At times people have told me how overwhelming the refugee influx has been,” he says. 

Andy still has another month of his journey, and many litres of petrol left for his van – which last had a service stop in Germany. But he plans to offset his carbon footprint by tallying it up at his closing party in Madrid in October.

“The debate about Brexit has been stagnant on both sides and the idea is to send a positive message,” Andy told The Local.

“My preference would be to debate in Brussels and reform,” he adds. “When I set off I was very pro freedom of movement. This journey has reinforced how I felt.”  

Follow Andy Pardy’s journey here. You can also see photos from Andy’s journey here

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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.