SHARE
COPY LINK
OPINION - BREXIT

BREXIT

Brits in EU: It’s your future, so act now to keep Britain in

If you're one of over 2 million British people living elsewhere in Europe, June's referendum might be making you anxious. You should make your voice heard, says George Cunningham.

Brits in EU: It's your future, so act now to keep Britain in
Photo: Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP

Alex is a bright ambitious 26-year-old British-Asian student studying in Germany. A former flight attendant for a major airline, he made the decision to go to university later than most and is due to graduate with degree which could give him access to 28 job markets across the EU, as well as skills in German and Dutch.

Gill is a 72-year-old pensioner living in France. She and her husband moved there when they retired 14 years ago and have settled in well with their local community. They have French and British friends and love living there.

Both Alex and Gill represent different aspects of the British expat experience in Europe. And both share the same anxieties about what the future holds for them and other Brits after the EU referendum on 23rd June.

At 2.2 million the UK’s expat community across Europe is roughly equivalent to a city the size of Manchester. That’s no small number but only a tiny part of the monumental headache any British government would have to deal with when negotiating any post-Brexit settlement.

Since David Cameron got his deal in Brussels and announced the date of the referendum we have seen a lot more discussion about what could happen to the rights, benefits and residency status of Brits living in EU countries. But we must remember that much of this is speculative: no one knows for certain what will happen if Britain chooses to leave the EU.  

So the only way expats can be 100% sure of their pension and healthcare rights (to name but two)  is to vote ‘remain’ on 23rd June. It is that simple.

This means that expats who can still vote should register for a proxy or postal vote as soon as possible. Only 109,000 British expats voted to register for the General Election in 2015. And that’s the global figure. Not the EU one.  


George Cunningham, pictured outside the UK Parliament. Photo: Private

The Electoral Commission reports that there has been some increase in registration recently. But much more is needed. Registering now is particularly crucial because it was only a year ago that many of our members told us they couldn’t vote in the General Election due to administrative problems and cock-ups by local councils. 

Furthermore, expats who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years should continue to make a fuss and urge family and friends to vote ‘remain’; if not for them then to secure the right for Brits to study, work and retire across the EU in future. Voting in the EU referendum is a once in a generation decision and one that will have an impact on our all our family and friends for years to come.

And finally, for many expats (both in the EU and worldwide) anxiety over referendum is about much more than self-interest. We experience daily what it means to live in the international community and the values and benefits that this brings. It’s no surprise, therefore that the Liberal Democrats have called their campaign #INtogether.

With the polls as tight as they are, expats who care about their future and Britain’s place in the world must register to vote as soon as possible. Every vote will count and expats may well hold the balance.

George Cunningham is Chair of Brits Abroad: Yes to Europe, an expat campaign group to keep Britain in the EU. It is a non-partisan get out the vote initiative run by the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats. managed by the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats. The campaign has a Facebook page with up-to-date news about the debate on: https://www.facebook.com/BritsAbroadYestoEurope/

 

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.

SHOW COMMENTS