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OPINION: Why we Britons in Spain had to march for a people’s vote in London

A People’s Vote referendum needs to be the ‘last man standing’, so the timing has always been crucial, insists Bremain in Spain's Sue Wilson.

OPINION: Why we Britons in Spain had to march for a people's vote in London
On the march in London. Photo: Sue Wilson / Bremain in Spain

On Saturday March 23rd, I was privileged to join the ‘Put it to the People’ March in London, alongside over 100 of our Bremain in Spain members. Campaigning for a ‘People’s Vote’ has always been a priority for Bremain, so this wasn’t the first time we’d voted with our feet, but it was our biggest ever marching contingent.

The timing of the march was critical, coming just six days before the scheduled Brexit date of March 29th, which has now been postponed. Expectations ran high that numbers would exceed the 700,000 who marched in October. The organisers were not disappointed, with numbers confirmed at well over one million people.

Bremain in Spain marched with other campaign groups: Brexpats Hear our Voice, In Limbo Project and Espanoles de Reino Unido – a group of Spanish citizens based in the UK. We were also joined by a Spanish TV crew that was filming a documentary called ‘30 minutes’, scheduled for broadcast on TV3 in April.

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Many excellent speakers – including First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, deputy Labour leader, Tom Watson and Lord Michael Heseltine – gave passionate speeches about the shocking state of Brexit, and the urgent need for another referendum. This is now the only democratic and sensible option left to extract Britain from the Brexit impasse.

Since Theresa May gave her widely derided speech on Wednesday evening, pitting the public against parliament and laying the blame for the failure of Brexit at the feet of MPs, there has been a noticeable change in mood. Both the public and parliament have reacted rather differently from how May might have hoped or expected, by expressing widespread outrage. Most notably, the public has been signing a new petition, ‘Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU’   literally with millions of signatures, making it the largest petition in British history. It seems that we Remainers are making history all over the place at present!

The march itself was peaceful, fun, full of humour, hope and inspiration. The inventiveness of the banners and the costumes was a sight to behold, and I was in good company in my blue wig! 


Sue Wilson marching in her blue wig!. Photo: Bremain in Spain

Following events on the main stage in Parliament Square, the No. 10 Vigil hosted its own event opposite Downing Street at its usual, thrice-weekly venue. I was invited to make a speech on behalf of the five million UK-in-EU and EU-in-UK citizens, and directed much of my speech directly at Theresa May. I reminded the crowd how the British citizens in the EU have been ignored and side-lined since June 2016 – out of sight and out of mind. How our rights and freedoms have been threatened, and how the only way to guarantee their preservation is to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. 

With the petition and the march, we are now closer to reaching our goals than ever before. A year ago, only 25 MPs supported another referendum – now it’s rumoured to be 10 times that number and climbing. The amazing events on Saturday will not have gone unnoticed in

Westminster or, indeed, in Brussels, and the appeal of putting the Brexit issue back to the public will only continue to grow.

This week, parliament will debate alternatives to Theresa May’s unpopular deal, with the aim of reaching consensus. With Remain MPs committed to averting a no-deal Brexit, and extreme Brexiters equally determined to prevent any softening of Brexit, it’s difficult to see what other option might achieve a majority. Putting the decision back to the people could be the only option that stands any chance of being supported by both sides.

It was always the intention of the People’s Vote campaign to not push too hard or too soon in parliament for another referendum, in the hope of ruling out other options first. A People’s Vote referendum needs to be the ‘last man standing’, so the timing has always been crucial. Whether all campaigners agree with that approach is questionable, but nobody can argue about the success of the march or the wide media coverage achieved on Saturday.

For those taking part, the march was a chance to feel part of something historic and significant – a huge shot in everyone’s arm that made us even more determined to do everything we can to further the battle.

For me personally, it was a fantastic opportunity to meet friends old and new, to put faces to names, and to be moved by the passion and eloquence of speakers and marchers alike. We are closer than ever to another referendum but, as I said in my speech, “we should not think of it as a second referendum, but as a first referendum based on the facts – a referendum that is fair, honest and legal”.

Theresa May’s lead role in the Brexit soap opera looks destined to end soon. It’s difficult to see how she could have alienated more people, had she been trying! So, I’ll end here as I ended my speech on Saturday, with a direct message for the Prime Minister, from Brits all over the EU: “You are not on my side. You do not speak for me. It’s time to pack your bags and leave!”

The UK is not leaving the EU on Friday March 29th – but wouldn’t that be a great day for May to make her exit!

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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