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ELECTIONS

OPINION: Why the Spanish election result brings hope for Britons fearing Brexit

The Spanish election result gives Britons in Spain fearing Brexit, reason to be hopeful ahead of the crucial UK general election, explains Bremain in Spain's Sue Wilson.

OPINION: Why the Spanish election result brings hope for Britons fearing Brexit
Protesters stage a rally in Uxbridge, Boris Johnson's constituency. Photo: AFP

Thanks to Brexit, I’ve recently taken more interest in British politics than in the political situation here in Spain. I’ve focused on the forthcoming British election, rather than on the Spanish one, although both have come around rather quickly!

It could be argued that the general election in Spain will affect the lives of British migrants more than the British general election. For many British citizens in Spain who are younger and working, that’s probably true. They pay into the Spanish system, are entitled to Spanish healthcare, and will have Spanish state pensions. They may have Spanish spouses and family. Their kids probably speak Spanish first, English second, and will be completely integrated into Spanish society. Meanwhile, many Leave voters in the UK tell me that I voted with my feet – by moving to Spain – and, therefore, I should have no further say in British politics.

As a retired Brit relying on a state pension from the UK, I feel more in the hands of the British government than the Spanish one. The British government pays for my healthcare and determines the value of my pension and whether it will continue to increase annually. Since the June 2016 referendum, Brexit has determined the value of my monthly income, because all the political twists and turns have daily affected the Pound to Euro exchange rate.

Another personal factor is that I can still vote in the imminent British election – although possibly for the last time. In Spain, I can’t vote for the national government because all Brits here are disenfranchised from doing so. Sadly, many of us are disenfranchised from voting for any national government, thanks to broken promises by the Conservative government about restoring Votes for Life.

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While I was being distracted by Brexit, last week’s Spanish election rather snuck up on me. For some time, Spanish politics has existed in a state of upheaval.  Unsurprisingly, with so many problems at home, the Spanish public and media have only taken a passing interest in British politics and Brexit.

Following the recent Spanish election result, we can see light at the end of the political tunnel here. The rise of the far-right – not just in Spain but across Europe – has been an ongoing concern. Many people thought that recent events in Catalonia would see the Vox party increasing in popularity and power.

While Vox did increase its share of the vote, becoming the third largest force in congress with 52 seats, the actual result was that Spain now has a left-wing coalition government. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez achieved a governing alliance between the Socialist Party and Unidas Podemos within hours of the election – a seemingly impossible feat. With 155 seats between them, PSOE/Podemos still need the endorsement of other parties. However, there’s hope that Spanish politics can finally move forwards and spare the country yet another election.

The EU welcomed the news from Spain “with much more relief than concern”. The rise of the far-right has worried the EU for some time. Yet, despite Vox rising in popularity, Spain now has one of the most left-wing governments in Europe.

We’re right to be concerned about the growth of nationalist and far-right groups, both in the UK and Spain. Nevertheless, the outcome of the Spanish election proves that the right gaining support doesn’t necessarily lead to a more right-wing government.

Back in the UK, the Brexit Party may gain further support from the British public on December 12th, but this doesn’t guarantee it a single seat in the next parliament. With the British ‘first past the post’ electoral system, support does not necessarily translate into power.

The result of the forthcoming British election is proving almost impossible to predict, with many voters determined not to vote along normal party lines, putting Brexit ahead of more usual political concerns. If all goes well, the outcome will end the rule of the most right-wing British government I’ve seen since I’ve been old enough to vote.

Let’s hope the new British government can learn lessons from Spain and work cross-party to form a coalition for the benefit of the nation. If that happens, perhaps we can avoid further elections for a few years – in Spain and Britain.

Fingers crossed!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

More information:

For more on how to register, how to apply for a postal/proxy vote, including forms to download, please check out the Bremain in Spain website, where you'll find a wealth of election information, including advice on tactical voting.

OPINION: 'We moved to Spain in good faith and we shouldn't lose that right'

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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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