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BREXIT

OPINION: Happy Un-Brexit Day! – A time of confused emotions for Brits in Spain

Bremain in Spain's Sue Wilson expects more shocks, surprises, twists, turns, and time-wasting. But in the meantime, be thankful that Brexit didn’t happen on March 29th.

OPINION: Happy Un-Brexit Day! - A time of confused emotions for Brits in Spain
An anti-Brexit protest near the Houses of Parliament last week. Photos: AFP

For the last two years, ever since the triggering of Article 50, the clock has been ticking down to Brexit Day. Over 100 times, Theresa May informed parliament and the British people that we would be leaving the European Union on March 29th, 2019, but she finally accepted that this wasn’t going to be the case.

Brexit Day or not, last Friday was a momentous landmark in the Brexit story. The Leave campaign’s march arrived in London, after its long and poorly-attended trek from Sunderland – a trek on which its leader, Nigel Farage, showed only minimal participation. More importantly, Theresa May brought back the Withdrawal Agreement to the House of Commons for one final attempt to gain parliamentary support for her twice-defeated deal.

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Friday 29th was a day of mixed emotions for British citizens in Spain. Despite the media asserting that Theresa May was destined to lose the vote, many people were naturally concerned that the deal would somehow pass, resulting in us leaving the EU on 22 May with our rights diminished. Despite the demands of citizens’ rights groups, such as British in Europe, both sides of the negotiating table have failed to ring-fence the rights already ‘agreed’ in the Withdrawal Agreement, and their reluctance to do so continues.

For many Bremain in Spain members, Friday 29th was a day of celebration. Or, as we like to call it, Un-Brexit Day! A day to celebrate our progress in the battle for another referendum – this time round, a fair, honest and legal referendum. A year ago, campaigners for a second vote – and those discussing Brexit being postponed, or even cancelled – were considered dreamers. Our goals were deemed as being equally “unrealistic” as the fantastical visions of Brexit espoused by the Leave campaign. Yet here we are in April 2019, still members of the European Union, still European citizens, and with a real chance of achieving our goals.

On Wednesday March 27th, parliament took control of the Brexit process for a day, the intention being to debate and vote on alternative options to May’s unpopular deal. Eight options were considered. While none achieved a majority, two clear favourites emerged: a customs union add-on, defeated by a mere eight votes, and a confirmatory referendum, which received the most votes. The option of leaving with no deal was soundly defeated, with 400 MPs voting against it. To date, this is the most significant indication that parliament won’t tolerate a no-deal scenario, as May readily acknowledged.

Parliament will repeat the process again this week, as it’s trying to reach consensus. Meanwhile, May seems intent on bringing back her deal for a fourth attempt: clearly, she still believes this is the only possible Brexit route. It’s debatable whether the Speaker, John Bercow, will allow a further attempt.

The biggest concern for British citizens living and working in EU27 countries is the fear of a no-deal scenario on April 12th. As this is still the legal default option, fear of it happening has increased since the EU responded to recent events in Westminster by claiming that no-deal was now “more likely”.  An emergency EU summit has been scheduled for April 10th. Before this date, the Prime Minister must apply for a long extension and commit to taking part in the European elections. The EU will set further conditions – most likely a public vote or a general election – both of which are now being openly discussed in parliament.

I still believe a no-deal scenario will never happen – as I did last week, last month and last year. UK parliament has finally flexed its muscles and it’s not finished yet. Parliament has confirmed that it won’t allow the UK to crash out of the EU under those damaging circumstances – even if it means a delay, a compromise, a new Prime Minister, or even a new government.

We aren’t out of the woods yet! We can expect more shocks, surprises, twists, turns, and time-wasting. However, we must be thankful that Brexit didn’t happen on March 29th, that May’s bad deal has been defeated – not once, not twice, but three times – and that a #PeoplesVote referendum is increasingly popular and close to reaching a majority amongst law-makers. Most importantly, we are still European citizens, with all the benefits of EU membership.

I’ve said it before: three’s only one way to guarantee retaining our precious rights and freedoms – and that’s to stop Brexit. Not only are we closer to that goal than ever before, but a majority in the UK demonstrably wants the same outcome.

So, pop that Cava cork and let’s celebrate our success. Happy Un-Brexit Day to all!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

 

 

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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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