OPINION: Now Brexit Day has been and gone, what next for Brits in Spain?

Now Brexit Day has been and gone, Bremain in Spain members have been asking “what will the group do next?”. Sue Wilson outlines what lies ahead.

OPINION: Now Brexit Day has been and gone, what next for Brits in Spain?
Photo: AFP

That’s a question that is still under discussion, but one of our goals – not directly related to Brexit – has not and will not change – the fight to restore our democratic voting rights.

For those of us that have been out of the UK for more than fifteen years, we have had no say in major decisions, such as the referendum and recent general elections. Those major decisions have had and will continue to have a significant impact on our lives, yet we have been left out in the cold.

We cannot vote in the UK, we cannot vote in general elections in Spain, and now thanks to Brexit, we cannot vote in European parliamentary elections. All we are left with is the ability to vote in local Spanish elections. So much for no taxation without representation.

If you get the feeling that we have been here before, it’s because we have. The Conservative Party has been promising to restore our voting rights, in successive manifestos, by three successive prime ministers.

The last attempt to resolve the issue involved a Private Members Bill – a bill introduced by an MP who is not a government minister. The Overseas Electors Bill, sponsored by former MP, Glyn Davies, was defeated in the House of Commons having been “talked out” by a Conservative MP. At the time, the bill did not have the support of the Labour Party, who wanted to tie any electoral reforms to a change in the voting age from eighteen to sixteen.

The current government manifesto states, “We will make it easier for British expats to vote in Parliamentary elections, and get rid of the arbitrary 15-year limit on their voting rights”.

Now that the government have a substantial majority, there has never been a better time to pass a government bill. We now need a government minister to introduce a public bill, and sooner rather than later.

Seasoned campaigner, 98-year old Harry Shindler MBE, has been lobbying for the restoration of voting rights for over 20 years. Following his recent trip to London and his discussions with politicians, he told me his contacts had said, “Harry – you will get your vote”.

Harry went on to say, “I am confident that we will secure the vote, but we must never let up! We must keep up the fight until everything is safe. Voting rights are an integral part of our democracy. I fully support Bremain in Spain in their endeavours”.

In an effort to give our campaign more teeth, I have been garnering support from large pro-European campaign groups. I am delighted to confirm that we have the weight of European Movement UK, Best for Britain, Grassroots for Europe and Britain for Europe behind us.

Naomi Smith, CEO of Best for Britain, pointed out that the EU citizens in the UK were also unfairly disenfranchised. Unfortunately, there is no such promise in the Conservative party manifesto to rectify this undemocratic situation. She said, “Around 3.6 million EU citizens made their lives in the UK and more than a million British people have chosen to live in Europe. We say give all British citizens and EU citizens resident in the UK an equal say in elections that affect their lives”.

Concerns for citizens rights were echoed by Hugo Mann, CEO of European Movement, who said, “Boris Johnson has proven time and time again that he cannot be trusted to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU. It’s vital that we do everything that we can to ensure that, as the people most affected by Brexit, their voices are heard”.

Richard Wilson, Chair of Grassroots for Europe and organiser of the recent Grassroots Pro-EU conference in London said, “An important task for the grassroots movement over the coming months, will be to hold the government to their promises. Those promises include a commitment to restore voting rights to the disenfranchised Brits in the EU. We therefore fully support Bremain in Spain's Votes for Life campaign”.

As well as garnering support from campaign groups, it is vital that we have your support too. If you are concerned at having no say, or risk losing your voting rights in the near future, then please help us keep this important fight on the Westminster agenda.

Please write to your MP, or the MP in your last registered constituency, and ask for their support. Remind them that the government have made repeated promises, and it’s time to honour those pledges. As with all correspondence with MPs, make sure to include your current address, and the postcode of your last address, in their constituency.

If you are unsure of who your MP is, you can find out HERE   

I’m not sure that I can promise to campaign for our voting rights for over 20 years, like the indefatigable Harry Shindler, but if the government keep their promises, I won’t have to!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain  & Ex-EU Citizen


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Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.