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BREXIT

Brexit Secretary seeks to reassure Brits in Spain on visit to Madrid

Steven Barclay, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU spent the day in Madrid on Thursday meeting Spanish government representatives to discuss Brexit strategy as well as hearing concerns from groups representing UK nationals in Spain.

Brexit Secretary seeks to reassure Brits in Spain on visit to Madrid
Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Brexit Minister) Stephen Barclay (C) arrives to meet Spanish foreign minister at the Palacio de Viana in Madrid. Photo: AFP

Accompanied by Hugh Elliot, the new British Ambassador to Madrid, Barclay held a meeting with representatives from Brexpats in Spain, ECREU and EuroCitizens to discuss the key issues affecting the more than 300,000 British citizens who have made Spain their home. 

During his visit to Madrid, the Secretary of State also spoke at an “Informative Breakfast” hosted by Spanish news agency Europa Press and met with business representatives.  He also discussed the importance of citizens’ rights during his meeting with the Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell.

In a video message to UK Nationals living in Spain, Steve Barclay said: “It’s been really useful to meet citizens’ rights groups representing British nationals living in Spain to hear about their concerns on things like healthcare. We are absolutely committed to protecting healthcare – we are in discussions with the Spanish government on that. Through the Royal Decree, the Spanish Government has given good support to citizens here, compared to other member states.”

He added that: “We are committed to getting a deal – that is the best way to safeguard citizens’ rights. And we will ensure that we continue to support them as we go through the Brexit process.”

A new campaign by the FCO aims to ensure Brits are prepared for Brexit by having all their paperwork in order. 

They have consistently urged Brits to make sure they are properly registered as a resident in Spain, that they have registered for healthcare and exchanged their British driving licences for Spanish one. They are also recommending that passports are checked for validity.

A series of pop-up clinic are taking place across the Costas in the run up to the October 31st deadline. 

Earlier on Thursday at a breakfast meeting, Barclay had reminded Spain of the importance of thrashing out a Brexit deal, warning that failure to have an withdrawal agreement would lead to direct competition on protected Spanish produce from UK dealers as well as its fishing industry.

“Spanish sherry, manchego cheese, cava, which will lose their protection in the event of no deal, and indeed face competition from any changes to UK procurement rules,” Mr Barclay warned.

“And a No Deal exit would bring changes of course to fishing as the UK becomes an independent coastal state, on which areas like Vigo would no doubt have an interest.”

A statement issued by the Spanish government after the bilateral meeting between Barclay and Borrell also emphasised the need for cooperation. 

“Both ministers agreed on the need to continue working together as is being done to minimize possible negative impacts of Brexit on citizens and the economic sector,” it said. 

Spain has already brought into law a set of contigency plans if the UK crashes out of the EU without negotiating a deal. 

Meanwhile British residents in Spain are encouraged by the FCO to sign up to the Living in Spain guide on gov.uk and by joining the Brits in Spain Facebook community.

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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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