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BREXIT

OPINION: Remainers must forgive fellow Brits in Spain who fell for the Brexit lie

There's no doubt that Brexit has caused a deep rift in society, often dividing colleagues, friends and families. In this week's column Sue Wilson from the Bremain in Spain campaign group says remain voters must forgive fellow Britons in Spain who fell for the Brexit lie.

OPINION: Remainers must forgive fellow Brits in Spain who fell for the Brexit lie
A pro-Brexit activist (L) wearing a 'yellow vest' hi-vis jacket remonstrates with an anti-Brexit activist dressed in an Union flag-themed jacket, as they demonstrate outside of the Houses of Parliamen

When I speak to people in the UK, I’m commonly asked: “Is it true that some Brits living in Spain voted for Brexit?” People seem genuinely surprised when I confirm it’s true. They frequently ask: “Isn’t that like turkeys voting for Christmas?”

The next question is, inevitably: “But why?” I’ve pondered that many times over, as have other pro-EU campaigners living in Europe.

In my role as chair of Bremain in Spain, a campaign group that works to stop Brexit, with a membership of Remainers, it would be easy to ignore the question altogether. Spending so much time in a Remainer “echo chamber”, I could almost forget the Leave side. However, it’s important to understand opposing views.

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The reasons why some Brits in Spain voted Leave are the same reasons that Brits in the UK voted for Brexit. Whether they believed Turkey was about to join the EU (it isn't), that the UK doesn't control its borders (it does), or the infamous lie mounted on the side of the red bus, I believe most people wanted what was best for the UK. They voted for a better life for themselves and their families, even if Brexit could never deliver it.

I frequently hear of conversations – sometimes heated, sometimes devastating – between families, friends and colleagues, on different sides of the debate. The divisions created by Brexit are deep and strongly-held. They run against previous groupings that were based largely on socio-demographic background and political inclination. Many people have lost some old connections and have replaced them with strong, new ones, forged in unlikely places.

A common belief of Leavers in Spain is that Brexit would change nothing – life would continue as before. In some ways, that could be true for Brits living in Spain, especially for those with disposable income and/or a bolthole in the UK. In the event of Brexit, especially a hard one, we would avoid the immediate issues faced by UK residents, such as food shortages and price increases.

However, the impact could be felt re travel/visa requirements, the potential further devaluation of sterling, or a reduction in our rights and freedoms. Some of these could have significant consequences for us.

The truth is that we don't know all the implications – we don’t even know what Brexit might look like at present. Furthermore, a forthcoming snap election in Spain could impact the Brexit bilateral negotiations. I have a good understanding of the situation, but even my crystal ball can’t predict the future under these circumstances!

One thing I can predict: the divisions created in British society will take a long time to heal. Those who voted Remain are holding a lot of anger, fear and sadness. Understandably, this needs to be vented.

When we struggle to deal with our strong feelings, human nature dictates that we apportion blame. Politicians are an obvious target – whether it’s David Cameron for starting this whole mess then washing his hands of it, or Theresa May for her insistence on red lines that have limited the type of possible Brexit deal.

Naturally, many Remain voters point the blame directly at Leave voters, but is that fair or helpful? Shouldn't we blame those who misled the public, broke the law or lied about the consequences, not those who believed the false promise of a better future? How about blaming those who want to plough on with Brexit, despite understanding the severe consequences?

Meanwhile, many Leave voters are realising that their hopes for Brexit were a fiction, and some are bravely admitting to having second thoughts.

I fully admit to feeling anger towards the people who voted to put us in this position, and I won’t abandon my feelings when aimed at Brextremists. However, these feelings aren’t aimed towards most Leave voters, who were sold the false promises on an industrial scale.

To start putting British society back together, we need to listen to all sides of the debate and understand the reasons people voted Leave. We must learn to forgive, and provide encouragement to those persuaded by lies, fantasy, and a desire to improve their lot.

Much damage has already been done and some will never be repaired. The companies and international agencies that have left the UK will never return. Those jobs and opportunities are lost for ever. We can’t undo many of the consequences of the Brexit referendum, but we can work to prevent further damage.

We Remainers can continue communicating in our echo chambers, motivating like-minded people to keep the faith and continue fighting the injustices of Brexit. That alone is not enough. We must reach out to those with different views, if we are to turn the Brexit Titanic around before it hits the iceberg.

We don’t have to convince the world, or persuade the unpersuadable to our way of thinking. We do, however, need to start listening. Perhaps, in return, our family, friends and colleagues will start listening to us.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain, a member of the British in Europe coalition.

 

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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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