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BREXIT

OPINION: Why EU results aren’t bad news for those of us fighting Brexit

Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain explores what the EU election results mean for those Brits in Europe fighting Brexit.

OPINION: Why EU results aren't bad news for those of us fighting Brexit
Photo: AFP

On Sunday 26th May, British citizens throughout Spain joined their Spanish neighbours in voting – many for the first time – in local and European elections.With a choice of voting for the EU elections in their ‘home’ or ‘host’ country, many Brits chose to vote in the UK to voice their opinions about Brexit. Others elected to vote in Spain. For some people, that was their only option, having been disenfranchised from voting in the UK.

Here in Spain, the experience of voting in the EU and local elections was quick and easy, and the ‘extranjero’ voters were welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately, the experience for EU citizens in the UK was rather different, with many being turned away at polling booths. British citizens living abroad who had selected a postal vote faced significant problems, with ballot papers failing to arrive in time, if at all.

This further disenfranchisement of British citizens in Europe and EU citizens in the UK caused a stir on social media, with #DeniedMyVote trending on Twitter. Because of the outcry, British in Europe and the 3Million are examining the feasibility of a legal challenge over this issue, and questions have been raised in both Westminster and Brussels.

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Despite many hundreds of thousands of people being prevented from voting, the EU elections had the largest turnout across the continent for over two decades. The motivation for many voters, in the UK and across Europe, was clearly a desire to rally against the rise of the far-right.

In the UK, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party won the largest number of seats – although fewer than predicted. Most were taken directly from Ukip, which failed to retain a single seat. Voters failed to be impressed by party leader, Gerard Batten, and his sidekick – the notorious Tommy Robinson.

Nigel Farage naturally claimed a massive victory and, as usual, garnered endless media attention. Remain campaigners pointed out that the Brexit Party’s ‘spin’ didn’t depict the whole picture. In fact, it was the Remain supporting parties – LibDems, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Change.UK – that could rightly claim the victory, having secured around 40% of votes compared to the Brexit Party’s 35%. In fact, the number of seats for Brexit supporting parties (Brexit Party, Ukip and Conservatives) has declined by 10, compared to the 2014 EU election results.

The surge of voters abandoning the Conservative and Labour parties was significant, as was the considerable increase in seats for all explicitly pro-Remain/pro-referendum parties. The Liberal Democrats and Green Party had their best results to date – a position that was widely reflected across Europe.

Concerns in Brussels that the far-right would gain increased support proved unfounded. In fact, the balance of the European Parliament has shifted more to the left, with an increase in both the Green and Liberal groupings. The ALDE group is now the largest group in the European parliament.

In response to Labour’s poor showing, with their seats halved, Jeremy Corbyn said the Conservatives were “disintegrating and unable to govern” and, with parliament in deadlock, Brexit would have to go back to the people “through a general election or a public vote”.  The Labour party leadership will now be under enormous pressure from its own MPs, MEPs and members to climb off the fence and fully support Remain and a #FinalSay referendum.

With the Conservative party in disarray, and a leadership contest underway for the next Prime Minister, it remains to be seen how the EU election results will influence a newly-elected leader. The number of potential candidates to replace Theresa May is increasing daily – there’s barely a cabinet minister that hasn’t thrown their hat into the ring!

It seems likely that our new Prime Minister will be a Brexiter, possibly even a Brextremist. Many of the candidates are claiming that ‘no deal’ should be back on the table – or is the desired destination. It’s blatantly clear that the Conservatives are worried about Farage and his followers. However, the government could reflect that, perhaps, it’s facing in the wrong direction: the bigger threat is coming from pro-Europeans.

We cannot deny that Farage and his Brexit Party machine have made a significant impact on British politics and will continue to influence events in Westminster. However, the pro-Europeans are still here, we’re growing in numbers, and we’re making progress.

More importantly, we’re still in the European Union! As re-elected Labour MEP Julie Ward said: “Every day we don’t Leave the EU is a day to Stop Brexit – the fight is on!”

We’re ready!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

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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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