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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Why the EU elections are so important for Brits in Spain

The UK's local election results last week delivered a drubbing to Theresa May over Brexit. That makes the EU elections even more important for Brits in Spain, argues Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain.

OPINION: Why the EU elections are so important for Brits in Spain
Placards featuring Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn (L) and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in the colours of the EU lean against a pillar near the Houses of Parliament. Pho

Before last week’s local elections in England and Northern Ireland, the Conservatives were preparing themselves for a big defeat. Most forecasts suggested a loss of around 800 seats, with the gloomiest predictions suggesting 1,000.

When the final scores were known, the humiliating loss of Conservative seats totalled 1,334, with the control of 45 councils lost. Prime Minister, Theresa May, responded by saying that the government realised the local elections were “going to be particularly challenging” and that Brexit was “an added dimension”.

Traditionally, mid-term local elections are an occasion when the public expresses some dissatisfaction with the incumbent government. At such times, you would expect the opposition party to do well at the government’s expense. However, despite the government’s terrible performance, the Labour party did not capitalise – rather than gain seats as expected, it lost control of five councils and 82 council seats.

The big winners were the Liberal Democrats, gaining 703 seats, and the Green Party, gaining 194. Despite the public voting in significant numbers to reject the main parties in favour of anti-Brexit parties, both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn seem determined to plough on with Brexit regardless.

Having witnessed the most humiliating government defeat in a quarter of a century, Theresa May clearly remains deaf to the voices of the British public and the many calls for her resignation. If the lost Tory votes had been gained by pro-Brexit candidates, and not anti-Brexit parties, May would be justified in claiming that the public wants the government “to get on and sort Brexit out”. However, this was far from the reality.

Jeremy Corbyn’s interpretation of events was also surprising, given the prevailing results. He claimed the results were “very, very clear” and that “a deal has to be done”.

Cross-party talks continue between Labour and the Conservatives to seek agreement on the Brexit deal. Last week, before the election results were known, May imposed a deadline – the middle of this week – on the cross-party negotiations. Despite reports that the talks are “positive and productive”, both sides accuse the other of unwillingness to compromise, so it’s difficult to see how a breakthrough could be made anytime soon.

At least the government has dropped its pretense that the UK’s participation in the European Elections can be avoided. However, May is still hopeful of striking a deal by the end of June, to prevent British MEPs taking their seats in the new European parliament on 2 July. It’s questionable what could be agreed by the end of June that couldn’t be agreed by the end of April or May.

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The local election results may reflect the current voting preferences of the British public, but only provide a partial view. The elections only covered councils in certain parts of the UK and excluded some Remain strongholds, such as London and Scotland. Had those areas been involved, the results would probably be even more pro-European. 

Another significant factor was the limited selection of parties available – especially the absence of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which is currently topping the polls in the contest for Europe. The new Change.UK party (formerly the Independent Group) is also fielding many MEP candidates, but did not participate in the local elections.

Brits in Spain and throughout the UK couldn’t participate in the local elections but we can have our say on 23 May in the European elections. That is, those of us fortunate enough to retain our voting rights in the UK. While many have elected to use their vote here in Spain, others – me included – have chosen to vote in the UK.

If you’re eligible to vote, please ensure that you’re registered to do so. The deadline for registering online is close of business on Tuesday May 7th. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Whether you voted to Leave or Remain, and whether you still feel the same way, don’t waste our limited opportunities to have a voice and a say. Brexit is an unmitigated disaster and we’re being poorly served by our government, which is deaf and blind to public sentiment on the biggest issue of our time.

Let’s ensure a good turnout at the European elections in the hope that Theresa May finally starts listening to the prevailing ‘will of the people’. Failing that, May won’t be around much longer. We can only hope that her replacement will have better hearing and eyesight.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

For all you need to know about the European Elections, take a look at the Bremain in Spain European Election Special: 

 

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BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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