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OPINION

BREXIT

Why we are part of the Brexit problem – and what to do

It’s been a long night, and for those of us Brits who have made our lives elsewhere in Europe, it will be a long road ahead writes The Local's managing editor James Savage.

Why we are part of the Brexit problem - and what to do
Photo: AFP

While some people in Britain will rejoice at the country leaving the EU, we face an uncertain future.

We’ve been told by David Cameron that there will be no “immediate” consequences for us. Honestly, when a political decision affects your entire future, that’s not good enough.

But the problem is that the British people voted in large numbers to stop immigration from the European mainland. The way these things work, Europe will only grant rights to British citizens that Britain grants to other Europeans.

But for many of us, this result doesn’t just raise worries about our futures (though some of us have even secured dual nationality for just this eventuality).

No, this is a vote for a Britain that is turning in on itself and turning its back on globalisation, and that should concern us on another level entirely.

This is a vote for an island that sees people like us, living in a borderless, cosmopolitan world, as a problem in need of a solution. And for everyone who thinks this in Britain there are many across Europe and beyond who think in the same way.

And the truth is that there are losers in a globalised world. And in our rush towards our more cosmopolitan future, we all too easily forget those who lose out economically or who just find these changes frightening.

It’s no coincidence that older people were apparently overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit, while younger people wanted to stay.

So what to do now? The challenge is daunting: to stop our descent into a really ugly future, in which extremists like Farage, Trump and Le Pen are calling the shots in our once so free and liberal countries. 

I have no idea how this can be done, but I do know this: we, the winners of globalisation, have to understand why large parts of society detest us and the liberal society we live in.

And to find ways to work to a better future in which they, and we, have a stake. Part of this is economic, part of it is cultural.

Either way, it’s our job to work together to find a way through this, or our bright, prosperous future could evaporate more completely than we can comprehend.

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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.

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