OPINION: We’ll fight to win back rights for Britons in Spain and we need your support

Michael Harris of EuroCitizens and British in Europe tells The Local how he feels as the Brexit hour approaches and what his group will do for Brits in Spain.

OPINION: We'll fight to win back rights for Britons in Spain and we need your support
Michael Harris of EuroCitizens has campaigned for the continued rights of Europeans. Photo: Eurocitizens

I will be returning, exhausted, on the last train from Madrid to my home up in the Guadarrama mountains.

On Friday evening, EuroCitizens is meeting to discuss the impact of the Withdrawal Agreement on our lives: how it will guarantee some of our rights and how it will take away others.

We will be updating members on Spanish nationality issues and explaining how we are trying to get clarity on Spanish government measures for Britons during the transition period.


As the train halts in neon-lit suburban stations to disgorge late commuters I will be sad as well as tired. Sad to see my country leave the European Union after nearly fifty years.

Sad to witness the rising tide of narrow nationalism, bigotry and intolerance that is swamping Britain and elsewhere.

Sad that five million citizens, Europeans in the UK and Britons in the EU, have had to suffer years of excruciating uncertainty to get to this point.

Sad that 1.2 million people have lost their European citizenship against their will. Sad because thousands of young Britons in the EU will be unable to study or work in another country. Sad that the professional futures of people who I know will be blighted by restrictions on cross-border service provision. Sad about the complete futility of Brexit.

Ten minutes before getting to El Escorial, the shopping centres, serried rows of semis and bleak, empty car parks will stop and the train will traverse meadows and woodland hidden in darkness.

My spirits will rise and I will think of those who I have worked with in the struggle for citizens' rights. My fellow Europeans in Britain who, through the3million campaigning group, have fought so bravely against Theresa May's hostile environment and pressured the UK government to treat EU citizens decently.

I will mull over the previous hectic week at British in Europe, which started early on Sunday morning and still has not finished. Ten people working flat out for ten hours a day without pay: completing reports on the Withdrawal Agreement, preparing a crucial lobbying trip to Brussels, meeting officials and politicians, catching early-morning buses and late-night flights, sending out newsletters, posting online, finalising budgets and coordinating grassroots groups.

When we finally roll into the station it might be too late to raise a commiserating glass. But I will have done that a couple of hours earlier in the company of my friends and colleagues in EuroCitizens.

I will remember that the best, perhaps the only, way of facing disappointment and adversity is with other people. I ask you to do the same, to support British in Europe over the coming months, to help us ensure that Britons are treated fairly by EU member states, that our rights are fully respected and that we claw back some of the rights which have been stolen from us. 

Find out more by about Eurocitizens and British in Europe and donate to their cause.




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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.