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Expats didn’t ‘abandon’ UK so ALL Brits should get EU vote

The notion that long term British expats don't deserve the vote in the EU referendum, because "they already voted with their feet by leaving the country" is completely skewed, argues Ben McPartland.

Expats didn't 'abandon' UK so ALL Brits should get EU vote
Photo: AFP

Tens of thousands of British expats living in the EU were left furious and frustrated on Thursday when news came through that they won’t be able to vote in the EU referendum.

Despite being the most affected by the outcome the High Court in London basically thought they were not worth the rigmarole of overturning the rule that bars those who have lived outside the UK for 15 years or longer from voting.

Almost as disappointing as the actual verdict was the response of some Brits who seemed only too happy to see their compatriots barred from voting.

Their views, which were the same as those aired before last year’s UK general election could be summed by the line: “Well, you turned your back on the UK, so you should have no say in its future.”

Because millions of Brits had left the country of their own free will, to pursue jobs or lovers or just to rest their weary legs in a place with guaranteed sun after 35 years earning their crust in the UK, then Britain was of no concern to them anymore.

“You already voted. With your feet,” read one message.

Another one read “Live in France, pay taxes in France, vote in French elections. UK has nothing to do with you.”

Except that it does.

While I firmly believe EU nationals should be able to vote in elections in the country they live rather than were born in, Europe is not quite ready for that yet, nor are many longer term expats who will always feel more tied to Britain than to their adopted country of France, Spain or wherever.

While some tell them to “go native” and get French or Spanish nationality, the reality is that many can't due to language or time restrictions and some simply don't want to out of pure principle.

That’s because many of these expats – or immigrants as we should be called – who live in France, Spain or elsewhere spent most of their working lives in Britain.

Many who moved abroad taught in British schools for their whole lives or in British hospitals, serving the British public. Their children still live in Britain and their pensions are paid by British state.

Some still have property in Britain.

They don’t pay taxes in the UK? Well they did for most of their lives and many continue to pay taxes on their pensions in the UK.

(And if its only about taxes, are these people outraged that all the French, Germans, Poles and other EU nationals paying their dues in the UK are barred from the referendum?)

So you see, they really do have something to do with the UK.

But the main point here is that this is not an election, it’s a referendum one issue, that being Britain’s place in the EU, and so directly impacts on the lives of the British nationals living in the EU.

It’s arguably Britain’s most important referendum in history and far more important than a general election to British expats.

Yet whenever we talk about the vote lockout you get the impression Brits who moved abroad are thought of almost as traitors. We are accused of wanting the best of both worlds: the sun and the sangria in Spain, but also a say in what goes on back home.

But British expats should not be blamed or punished for simply taking advantage of the rules of the EU, that Britain signed up to.

We were encouraged to move freely throughout the EU. We were encouraged to look abroad for work or love.

We’d be forgiven for thinking these rules would be permanent, given that moving abroad is no easy feat, but now they are at risk, at the very least we deserve a say in whether things change.

What makes it more galling to those expats who can’t vote is the feeling that their lives could be hugely affected by British voters who have no real idea of or interest in the benefits of the EU.

That may be unfair, but that’s the problem with referendums and David Cameron has to answer for that if things go awry.

And Cameron has more to answer for than that.

In the run up to last election his party promised that if the Conservatives won the election they would scrap the 15-year limit on voting, because they too believe it’s unfair.

His party had over a year to get the change through parliament, but failed to do so. They could even have made an exception by allowing all foreign UK residents to vote by making an exception in the referendum bill, but declined to do so.

That’s why long term British expats feel let down.

The reality is Barack Obama looks like having more of an influence on the Brexit referendum than tens of thousands of British nationals, who will remain locked out of the vote.

That's a travesty.

 

 

 

 

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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