‘I feel like I want to cry’: Brexit Q&A provokes raw emotion

Anna Connolly, a Briton living in Madrid, writes about the feeling of helplessness caused by Brexit after attending a recent Q&A with the ambassador on what Britain's exit from the EU could mean for her future and other UK nationals in Spain.

'I feel like I want to cry': Brexit Q&A provokes raw emotion
Photo: donfiore1/Depositphotos
The Living in Brexit and Spain talk at the Círculo de Bellas Artes last week promised to be a Q&A session to find out the latest information on Brexit, and what this means for UK nationals living in Spain; largely it delivered on this promise, thanks to the lively dialogue between the speakers and audience.
Held on Friday evening, a slot for which the Ambassador quipped we must not have anything better to do, there was a palpable anticipation for a sense of direction for the future. The delayed start, due to one of the speakers not knowing their way to the room, did not bode well. 
The audience were as varied as the questions, some students, parents, a mum-to-be, teachers, lawyers, bankers, pensioners… Once the Brexit ball started to roll a host of complex issues arose. Some of these practical, others legal. Then emerged the emotional impact all this uncertainty is having. The shock of the vote's outcome and the shame over the marginal majority who voted out, seemingly forgetting how much the UK has benefited from being part of this union. 

A deep disappointment resurfaced at not being accounted for in the vote for Brexit. For being left out the biggest decision of our lifetimes; a decision where the political and personal have collided. One man of my father's age bravely admitted, perhaps for the first time, and perhaps on behalf of us all, 'I feel like I want to cry'. 
What was clear from the Q&A is how crucial reaching a deal is; the intricate web of which was expertly explained by their legal advisor. Additionally, the tireless work of Eurocitizens is to be applauded. The speakers from this group were passionate, as well as informed and are clearly in contact with the pulse of concerns. 
However, the bull in the china shop gradually stopped trying not to smash too indelicately into the obvious ever-pressing questions, 'what happens now?…how will this affect me?' Then the monster within surfaced.

This is the most worrying upshot of Brexit, how the 'we' is falling out of our rhetoric. We are forgetting about being part of something bigger, not just European, but about being human. I fear post-Brexit we will see further division and forget to look beyond our own boarders, thinking only 'how does this affect my life?'
Like my friends and family, and all other audience member's friends and family, contingency plans are being hatched. To use a Spanish literary reference for the surreal – we are facing down Álvarez Gato's alley, with valle-inclanesque distorted mirrors, looking at how British we really are; and if our plans for the fallout will be enough to keep us afloat.
For the British Nationals in Spain, and indeed the Spanish living in the UK, nationality has become a contentious chip for this All-In Poker game that is Brexit. Now whilst the many people who voted to remain, or who would have if they had the chance, are desperately seeking evidence for Irish ancestry, we are forgetting a fundamental truth. We are all immigrants of one form or another. We all have mixed ancestry. You only have to scratch the surface of where daily phrases come from to prove it. 
The concept of 'taking back' a country is not only misleading, but dangerous. This earthly paradise is on loan, and the concept of one person having more right to it than another is a way to deal with our sheer insignificance within the universe.
It is all too easy to shed a rosy hue upon the days of yore; or to invent a convenient idea of history according to our own values, or to dream up that British or Spanish sounds and dresses and feels a certain way, as if it were a medal never to touch, only for display.
Whilst the gravity of the British, or more specifically English, identity crisis keeps being swept away by inner-party divides, with personality politics served as the plat du jour, globally we are failing to address our damaged mutual residence, our planet. Environmental issues of global warming, the demand for sustainable energy and cutting out on plastic goods- these are the topics we should all be dedicating our time to. These areas affect each and every one of us, European or otherwise. 
While we still have an environment to protect we should be fighting for it tooth and nail. Mother Nature waits for no Brexit. Nature means nature.
Less than 6 weeks away Britain's cue for exiting the European Union is approaching, let's hope that reciprocal deals can be met and honoured. That way we stand a chance of exiting without being pursued by any bears.

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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.