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FISHING

How Brexit threatens Falklands’ economy…and Spanish fishermen

A no-deal Brexit would deal a severe blow to the economy of Britain's Falkland Islands which is heavily dependent on squid exports -- and to Galicia in Spain where almost all of the molluscs are sent.

How Brexit threatens Falklands' economy...and Spanish fishermen
Photos: AFP

Fully 94 percent of the catch, mostly squid, exported from the contested South Atlantic archipelago known to Argentina as the Malvinas and occupied by Britain since 1833, is sent to the port of Vigo in northwestern Spain, some 13,000 kilometres (8,000 miles) away.

There the squid are processed or shipped directly to other European nations. About a third of the squid eaten in continental Europe comes from the Falklands, according to the archipelago's government.

Fishing accounts for 40 percent of the economic output of the island group which was at the heart of two-month war between Britain and Argentina in 1982. And Galician trawlers staffed mainly with Spaniards dominate the sector.

This trade is profitable because no customs tariffs are slapped on the squid since both Britain and Spain belong to the European Union — but that would end if Britain leaves the bloc without any agreements in place about what their relationship would be in the future.

In that case World Trade Organization (WTO) custom tariff which range from six to 18 percent depending on the nature of the product would apply, according to Richard Hyslop, senior policy advisor to the Falkland Islands government.

“It's critical that we retain our tariff-free access (with the EU),” Teslyn Barkman, who is in charge of managing natural resources and Brexit related issues with the archipelago's government, told AFP by telephone, adding it was a “life or death” issue for the Falkland's economy.

Rush shipments 

Fearing a no-deal Brexit before an initial March 29 deadline for Britain to leave the EU, fishing firms rushed three ships with 21,000 tonnes of squid to Vigo to try to avoid paying hefty customs duties.

Galician trawlers also worry a no-deal Brexit would mean they lose access to Britain's fishing waters.

But British Prime Minister Theresa May last week asked fellow EU leaders to postpone Brexit for a second time, from April 12 to October 31, giving London a chance to negotiate an exit deal — and the three trawlers loaded with squid more time to reach Galicia.

The first trawler to arrive began unloading its cargo in Vigo this weekend.

“We create jobs, wealth” but “there is total uncertainty, we don't know what will happen to the Spanish fleet” if there is a no-deal Brexit,” said Javier Touza, the president of fishing vessel owners' cooperative Arvi at the port of Vigo.

“What we ask is that we can continue to fish. We have the biggest ships in the Galician fleet over there,” he added.

'Frustrating' 

Forty-three trawlers which belong to Arvi currently operate in the waters of the Falklands Islands.

Twenty-four fly the Spanish flag while the rest use the flag of the Falklands even though “the majority of their crew is Spanish and 100 percent of their cargo ends up in the port of Vigo,” said Touza.

The regional government of Galicia estimates around 1,700 crew members of fishing trawlers could be affected if Britain crashes out of the EU without a divorce deal.

This figure combines crew deployed on ships in the waters of the Falklands as well as those on the 66 trawlers that operate in British waters in Europe.

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, fishermen who work in the waters of the Falklands are on track for another record haul of squid this year, after catching 78,913 tonnes in 2018.

The archipelago, which is also heavily dependent on sheep farming, is home to just 3,000 people — which is why it relies on Spanish fishing crews.

“Europe wants to buy, eat and enjoy our world quality premium calamari. It's frustrating to be in that position but it makes sense to keep that relationship,” said Barkman.

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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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