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BREXIT

What the Spanish festival of San Juan and Brexit have in common for Brits in Spain

June 23rd was a key date in the calendar for Brits living in Spain. It combined the fiery festival of San Juan and also the third anniversary of the Brexit referendum. But the similarities don't stop there, writes Sue Wilson from Bremain in Spain.

What the Spanish festival of San Juan and Brexit have in common for Brits in Spain
Photo: Sue Wilson

On Sunday 23 June, I joined my Spanish friends and neighbours on my local beach to celebrate one of my favourite Spanish festivals of the year – San Juan.

Originally a pagan festival, San Juan became a celebration of the birth of Saint John the Baptist, while harking back to its’ earlier roots of worshipping the sun – the provider of life.

I live on the Spanish Levante, where the event is celebrated with huge bonfires on the beaches. San Juan is a time of purification and renewal, and letting go of the past. Many people bring hand-written wishes to burn on the fire. Others use the bonfires to rid themselves of unwanted baggage, such as burning photos of an ex-partner.

AFP

A few brave souls jump over the bonfires – originally a way to cleanse oneself. Now, it’s merely a show of bravado and a bit of fun. Most people prefer to surround the bonfires, talking, eating, drinking and socialising. It’s an event that brings the whole village together, regardless of age.

The main entertainment of the evening was provided by stilt-walkers, giving the audience an elevated display of twirling fireworks and flames. For most of us, the highlight occurred at midnight. After fireworks had been lit and paper lanterns, representing our hopes and dreams, were launched, the crowd headed to the water’s edge. With trouser legs rolled up and footwear discarded, we walked into the ocean and jumped, as one, over 12 waves.

AFP

Over the years, I’ve heard different theories about the significance of jumping the waves and the required number of jumps. My favourite interpretation is that we have one jump for every month of the year, and I’ve now been cleansed of all my sins! I presume that includes my bad language.

Of course, for Brits living in Spain, 23 June is significant for another reason. It is the third anniversary of the Brexit referendum – an event that has dominated the lives of many people ever since that fateful day.

Some Brits who voted Leave have remained unconcerned about Brexit, believing – as they do – that little impact will be felt here. However, for those of us who want to remain in the EU, the fear and anxiety have been significant. Despite reassurances from all directions, nobody really knows what rights and benefits we might keep, as nobody knows what kind of Brexit will occur if, indeed, it occurs at all.

Any mention of a worst-case scenario, “no-deal” Brexit, adds to the stress and insecurity – especially when people are understandably concerned about any potential threat to their free healthcare and freedom of movement.

Sue Wilson

So, the San Juan fiesta brings mixed emotions – a reminder of a life-changing event that still haunts our daily lives, and a celebration of joy and hope, shared with the locals.

As I launched my paper lantern, I felt like a kid sending a Christmas wish to Santa Claus. I wasn’t wishing for the latest toy or gadget, but for a smidgeon of sanity in Westminster, and for the UK to have another say on its future.

My offering to the bonfire was a simple “Brexit” sign, as there’s nothing I would rather see crash and burn during the rest of 2019.

With our troubles going up in smoke and our wishes floating towards the heavens, we came away hopeful, grateful and feeling part of a local community of different nationalities.

That’s exactly how I feel about being an EU citizen. Long may I remain one!

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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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