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ELECTION

OPINION: Do Britain’s political parties really care about Brits living in Spain?

Sue Wilson, from Bremain in Spain, looks at the main parties' election manifestos to see whether Brits living abroad get a mention and whether they deserve her vote.

OPINION: Do Britain's political parties really care about Brits living in Spain?
Photo: AFP
Last week saw the publication of manifestos from the main political parties, ahead of the UK general election.
 
From the hundreds of pages already available, I’ve been reading the manifestos to see if Brits abroad merit a mention.
 
I won’t pretend to have read them in detail, but I’ve focused on pages relevant to Brits living in Europe.
 
The LibDems manifesto proves that it’s not just a one-policy party, solely intent on stopping Brexit.
 
Its manifesto includes a wide range of social, economic and environmental proposals.
 
One positive promise for Brits abroad is the restoration of full voting rights – a promise to return our ‘Votes for Life’. 
 
It was something of a surprise to find the Conservatives offering to restore our voting rights too, though we have been here before with the defunct ‘Overseas Electors’ bill – a private members bill that never made it through parliament.
 
Labour’s manifesto is extensive and is considered the most radical.
 
It includes proposals for re-nationalisation of certain industries such as rail and mail, and massive spending commitments.
 
Labour pledges to maintain the triple lock on pensions – a commitment also made by the LibDems.
 
However, Labour goes one step further, specifically mentioning Brits abroad.
 
The manifesto states: “We will ensure that the pensions of UK citizens living overseas rise in line with pensions in Britain.”
 
Labour also commits to compensating ‘WASPI’ women – those born in the 1950s who have been deprived on thousands of pounds worth of pension payments.
 
During the televised leaders’ debate on Friday, the Prime Minister said he sympathised with WASPI women, but a solution would be expensive.
 
He responded to an audience question with: “I cannot promise that I can magic up that money for you.”
 
Unlike all the money the government has magicked-up to pay for Brexit.
 
The Conservative party manifesto was only published yesterday, but the headlines are a commitment to railroad the Brexit Bill through before Christmas, hold down taxes and “put more money back in people’s pockets”. 
 
I suspect that the only people who will end up with more money will be those that need it the least, and certainly not those affected by the fluctuating exchange rate.
 
The Conservative manifesto also includes a number of crowd-pleasing initiatives, such as repairing potholes and axing hospital parking fees.
 
Rather begs the question as to why these wonderful new ideas, if considered so important, never came up in the last nine years of Conservative rule.
 
I have yet to find any further reference to our situation in Europe, but I’ll keep checking. Perhaps we are hidden somewhere in the small print.
 
A recent poll identified the NHS as the British public’s number one concern, with Brexit coming a close second.
 
All other topics fall way behind. It’s debatable whether Brexit is a major concern to British voters abroad.
 
It’s clearly the top priority for the Conservative party – we are all overfamiliar with the prime minister’s overused slogan, “get Brexit done”.
 
Brexit is certainly the priority for the Liberal Democrats. Labour, on the other hand, would prefer to focus the election on other important issues, such as an end to austerity, improving education, housing and social care, etc.
 
No matter what you consider important in British politics today, this is the Brexit election.
 
Even if Brexit isn’t your personal priority, it will still be a hugely significant factor. The outcome of the election, and Brexit, will determine whether there’s money in the coffers to pay for all the promises being made by the political parties.
 
The LibDems promise to use a £50bn “remain bonus” to fund their spending plans.
 
The Conservatives have criticised Labour for planning to spend £80bn on its radical programme, yet they’ve conveniently forgotten their own bill for Brexit runs to a similar figure, according to Bank of England estimates.
 
Meanwhile, the treasury refuses to confirm the extra cost of the government’s Brexit plans – perhaps believing that the public’s ignorance is bliss.
 
For those lucky enough to retain a vote in the general election, our reasons for choosing a party will be personal and varied. We may have supported the party for years.
 
Our vote may be cast based on our feelings about Brexit.
 
Or we might decide based on the content of the manifestos and the promises of a different – and, hopefully, better – future for the UK.
 
For me, as a strong Remainer, I care less (at least for the moment), what policies my candidate is promising to implement.
 
I won’t be voting for the party that most closely matches my personal preferences.
 
I won’t be voting for the party that I supported for over four decades, or the party I’m likely to choose in the next general election.
 
Rather, I’ll be voting for the party with the best chance of removing my Conservative MP from his relatively safe seat.
 
So, please read the manifestos and understand what your candidate and party represent.
 
Then hold your nose, forget your tribal instincts and vote to #GetTheToriesOut!
 
We need to be rid of this government and rid of Brexit, so we can concentrate on putting the UK back together and undoing all the damage.
 
Thank you all the same, Mr. Johnson, but no, I don’t want Brexit, or another five years of Tory government for Christmas, if it’s all the same to you.
 

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.

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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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