OPINION: It’s no surprise some Brits in Spain would now accept a soft Brexit

In her weekly column for The Local Sue Wilson, chair of the Bremain in Spain group explains that while many Brits in the country would now be willing to accept a soft Brexit, she is not one of them.

OPINION: It’s no surprise some Brits in Spain would now accept a soft Brexit
Photo: Deposit photos

Do we have good news? Not really.

The EU has recently agreed to give British citizens visa-free travel to its member states, even if there’s a no-deal Brexit. This proposal would allow Brits to visit the EU for up to 90 days; reciprocated by the UK re EU citizens who want to visit the UK.

The no-visa news was almost buried amongst considerable foot-stomping and grumbling from the UK government about Gibraltar being described as a “colony” of the British crown, despite the UK widely using the same term to describe it in the past. Heaven forbid that the UK government would welcome any move made by the EU for its citizens’ benefit!

So, what does the visa news really mean? A stay within a Schengen travel area country, such as Spain, could only take place for 90 days within any 180-day period.

While this move is good news for British tourists, it hasn’t been well-received by those who live in Spain full-time, or what the British Embassy describes as “swallows” – i.e. Brits with second homes in Spain who like to fly south for winter.

The potential loss of our rights and freedoms has been a major concern since the referendum on 23 June 2016.

Despite government claims about us being one of the three “priorities” in phase one of the Brexit negotiations, we’ve been ignored throughout the entire process.

We’ve never managed to secure an audience with the Prime Minister, or any of the three heads of the Department for Exiting the EU, and not for lack of trying. The EU, on the other hand, has engaged with us throughout, even offering meetings with Michel Barnier.

At the end of 2018, when the Withdrawal Agreement was agreed by May and the EU – if not by UK parliament – British citizens in the EU felt an element of relief.

While it didn’t go far enough re our citizens’ rights, the more pressing concern was May’s oft-repeated statement that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. Following the biggest defeat in British parliamentary history, the chances of agreeing the Withdrawal Agreement now seem unlikely, especially as May’s plan B (or is it C or D already?) looks remarkably like her plan A.

If Brits in the EU were worried before, they’re even more concerned now, with the looming and much-hyped threat of a no-deal Brexit.

May has been threatening parliament and the country with no-deal or no-Brexit, in the hope of gaining approval for her very bad deal. It’s hardly surprising that some Brits in Spain would now accept a soft Brexit – merely to relieve their anxiety and stress.

I’m not one of those people. In fact, I’ve always believed, and still do, that no-deal Brexit is impossible.

UK parliament has already demonstrated that there’s no majority in Westminster for this disastrous outcome. Surely even May wouldn’t inflict such damage on the country or (perhaps more importantly to her mind!) to her own Tory party.

Furthermore, there’s not enough time in the parliamentary calendar to pass the essential legislation required for Brexit, or for a no-deal scenario, meaning that the only viable option is to request an extension of Article 50.

We won’t be ready to leave the EU, under any circumstances, on 29 March. Some cabinet ministers have recently been making this point. I suspect that they’re trying to familiarise the public with the idea of a Brexit delay.

So, please excuse me if I don’t jump for joy at the prospect of 90 days visa-free travel. I’m rather enjoying full freedom of movement across all 28 countries.

There’s no better deal, on the table or in the minds of the fantasists, that will maintain the rights and freedoms we currently experience. I’ve made the most of those freedoms – and I would like future generations to enjoy the same opportunities.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain


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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.