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BREXIT

OPINION: ‘Brexit may have stolen Britain from many of us, but it’s not going to steal Spain’

As we roll into 2020 and Brexit fast approaches, Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain reflects on the struggle so far and what more there is to come.

OPINION: 'Brexit may have stolen Britain from many of us, but it’s not going to steal Spain'
Photo: galitskaya/Depositphotos

The start of a new year is a time for reflection. It’s a time to look backwards, consider what is a good riddance and what we’ll miss. More specifically, it’s a time to look forward, to wonder what the future might hold and approach tomorrow with a clean slate and fresh hope.

The fact that we’re leaving the EU in less than a month is obviously a huge – and, for me, an extremely sad – factor this new year. Despite all our efforts, and three successful delays, Brexit is happening. However, I refuse to let Brexit steal my hope for a better, brighter future. Thankfully, that future will be here in Spain.

The result of the UK general election in December made many of us feel like completely turning our backs on the UK. For some people, it was the final impetus to start applying for Spanish citizenship. For Brits in the UK dreaming of a Spanish retirement, it was the stimulus to fast-track their emigration plans.

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Photo: AFP

The election, and Brexit itself, have made Brits in Spain value our lives here more than ever. Although many of us loathe Brexit, its implementation has, at least, brought some element of certainty. After over three and a half years of living in limbo, we now have more idea about the future. With the Withdrawal Agreement preserving some – if not all – of our valued EU citizenship rights, there’s at least some assurance of a certain level of protection.

With each new year, I become more appreciative of my adopted country. The list of Spain’s attractions is long and needs no explanation. I don’t remember when I first knew that Spain would be my forever home, but I certainly know that now.

Spain has changed me in many ways, yet at this time of year, I’m especially aware of how British I am. No matter how long I live in Spain, I won’t want to sacrifice my turkey dinner on Christmas Day.

The Spanish may like Brussels sprouts, with their proudly European name, but they seriously underestimate the value of parsnips!

However, despite having a Scottish husband, I would gladly swap ‘Auld Lang Syne’ for a glass of cava and a dozen grapes!

As I consider the pros and cons of becoming a Spanish citizen, I’m acutely aware that my six decades as a British citizen are ingrained in my nature. Hard as I might try, I’ll always retain the British characteristics that made me who I am today. It’s been some time since I was proud of Britain, but I still value many aspects of the British character that formed my upbringing.

Brexit has changed the way that Brits look at themselves, and others. It has shaped my life 24/7 since June 2016 and will, no doubt, do the same in 2020. While I can no longer hope to stop Brexit, there’s still a lot to hope and fight for.

We’re leaving the EU at the end of January, but that’s just the start. If we thought that the negotiations over the Withdrawal Agreement were tough, we haven’t seen anything yet. The discussions over the future relationship have yet to begin and will take years, despite the prime minister’s insistence that a trade deal can be negotiated by the end of 2020.

As we look to the future and pledge to eat more healthily, exercise more, be kinder to others or save the planet, many people will be thankful that we are getting Brexit done. Even those who never wanted Brexit will be glad of some resolution. The prime minister would like to remove the word Brexit entirely from the conversation. I will make this pledge now – while the final relationship with the EU is undetermined, Brexit will still be in my dictionary. While there’s still a threat of no deal at the end of 2020, Brexit is not done, and cannot be ignored.

I’ve started the New Year as I mean to go on by taking a long walk around my beautiful Spanish village. As I count calories over the coming weeks, I’ll also be counting the cost of Brexit, and holding those responsible to account.

So, let’s start this new year full of hope. We may not be where we hoped but we can mitigate the damage and create the best possible future. Brexit may have stolen Britain from many of us, but it’s not going to steal Spain. If I had to give up one or the other, Spain would win hands down.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

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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