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BREXIT

OPINION: There’s a reason that more Brits live in Spain than any other European country and it’s not just the sunshine

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain reveals what she loves about living in a small seaside village in Valencia and how looking at it through tourist eyes brings a new perspective.

OPINION:  There’s a reason that more Brits live in Spain than any other European country and it's not just the sunshine
Photo: perszing1982/Depositphotos

When I first visited Spain, at the tender age of 18, it was love at first sight.

Admittedly, back then, I was more interested in the weather, nightlife and the size/price of a Bacardi and Coke. Over the years, as I matured, so did my tastes. I grew to appreciate everything this wonderful country has to offer: the tasty tapas, varied landscapes, amazing culture, healthy lifestyle and – most importantly – the warmth and generosity of the Spanish people.

Now, a resident of 12 years standing, I’m living the retirement I could only dream of during many decades of annual holidays in Spain. I live in a small seaside village in the Valencian community, which is transformed by tourists for 10 weeks of the year. Our sleepy little winter village becomes a bustling resort, attracting visitors from all over Europe. In August, you’re more likely to hear French spoken than Spanish, although many other nationalities have also discovered our slice of paradise.

The inflow of visitors has its downside – longer queues in the supermarket and bank, parking problems, more traffic and slower service in bars and restaurants. However, the pluses more than outweigh the minuses. The buzz is infectious, the diversity of languages and people is a pleasure, and it’s good to be reminded that our village only exists thanks to the Euros, Pounds, Krone, Roubles and Francs that are spent here.

With so many European nationalities surrounding us, we feel part of a growing family – one that shares our dreams, concerns and values. It also allows us to see the village, and the country, through the eyes of those who love to visit but cannot stay.

When I speak Spanish, it’s clear that I’m not from around these parts,so the next question tends to be “where are you from?” When I tell people I’m from the UK, it’s commonplace to be greeted with a look of pity and an incredulous “what on earth was the UK thinking of with Brexit”. What, indeed!

Many of the tourists are regular visitors who have fallen for the local charms, as we did. When I’m asked when I’m going “back home”, I love to say: “In the next few hours – this is home!” I admit to taking small delight from seeing a glimpse of envy.

As well as interacting with tourists, many of us entertain our friends and family in August. It’s a time to switch off, dine out rather too often, visit tourist attractions that we ignore for 11 months of the year,  and to relax and unwind. A time to set aside our worries about the future and appreciate what we have.

Before the referendum, I was guilty of taking all the benefits and freedoms of being a European citizen for granted. I never thought about my freedom of movement or my right to free healthcare and didn’t really associate those benefits with the EU. I just enjoyed those freedoms, with the expectation that I would have them for life.

Nobody knows what our Brexit future will bring, but if the referendum has had one positive outcome, it’s this: it has shown us what’s at stake and what we stand to lose.

I’ve loved my life in Spain since the day I arrived. I love it more with each week, month and year that passes. There’s a reason that more Brits live in Spain than any other European country, and it’s not just the 320 days of sunshine (although that’s amazing too!).

It’s the welcome, the sense of family, the feeling of security, the neighbourliness. Spain is in my soul and I’m never going to leave. The same applies to Europe, so keep your hands off my EU citizenship. The UK isn’t leaving, and neither am I.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

READ MORE  OPINION: Brits relying on funds from the UK are feeling increasingly helpless

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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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