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

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

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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