Why can’t we vote?

As campaigns for and against Britain remaining in the EU intensify, the two million or so British who are registered as living in Europe are becoming distinctly nervous. 

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There are about two million British citizens resident in Europe - and no doubt many more who are not officially living outside the UK. The upcoming Referendum, likely to be held in June this year, is of major concern to those who live outside British borders and within the EU.
 
The EU Referendum is a big concern for British expats
 

PUSH TO VOTE

 
The British Consul in Spain and his staff are actively encouraging British people to register to vote in June - but the fact is that only a proportion of those will actually be able to vote under laws passed by Tony Blair’s government. The law states simply that any British citizen who has lived outside the United Kingdom for more than 15 years loses their right to vote in in British General Elections, Council Elections and now in the EU Referendum.
 

WHY MOVE ABROAD?

 
Many people move to other countries for work. In Barcelona, there is a large British community of business people and those involved in education one way or another. Many are young people and certainly some will move on to other jobs, but a substantial number will stay, find a partner locally, marry, have a family and eventually will retire in Spain as they have made their lives there and have their family installed around them.
 
Others will come later in life, perhaps having taken early retirement or having bought a property some years before in anticipation of retirement. 
 
Any British citizen who has lived outside the United Kingdom for more than 15 years loses their right to vote in the EU Referendum
 

THE RIGHT TO VOTE AND RIGHTS

 
The arbitrary 15 year rule affects a large number of people who now find that they cannot vote. The French can vote throughout their lives from wherever they may reside; similarly, the Americans have the right to vote for life, so why not the British?
 
Whether the United Kingdom stays in Europe or decides to leave is of monumental importance to British citizens living within EU borders. There are so many unanswered questions. In the event of a departure, what rights will they have to medical care in European countries, especially if they are retired as the British government actually covers their costs at present? Will they continue to receive the annual increase in state pensions (which they have paid into all their lives)? Will they need to retake driving tests to be legal? What other basic day to day rights currently enjoyed will automatically be removed?
 

THE DEBATE CONTINUES

 
Certainly, the majority of those currently living in Europe and who have been there for less than 15 years will be able to make their feeling known and to cast their vote. For the rest, the constant in/out debate witnessed in the British press and on British TV is frustrating to say the least, when there is no way to add one’s voice to the outcome.
 
The French can vote throughout their lives from wherever they may reside; similarly, the Americans have the right to vote for life, so why not the British?
 
The head of the confederation of British Industry, the CBI, Paul Drechsler, has declared he is for staying in Europe. “Nothing about a Brexit would be better for economic growth. We have to be careful we don’t think there’s a great new world out there for us, Brexit means a significant period of uncertainty.”  Certainly, there is uncertainty for British people in Europe.
 
Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General, claims that an EU exit may leave “two million Britons abroad as illegal immigrants overnight.” 
 
The opposite point of view is held however by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, which says expats have now ‘acquired rights’ in their home countries, which they should continue to enjoy in the case of a Brexit.
 
WHAT ABOUT THOSE YET TO MOVE TO EUROPE?
 
People may decide to wait until after the referendum to take up jobs, which in turn will have an impact on British business abroad and the number of British people moving to countries such as Spain, which will only make the effect on these businesses more evident. 
 
In the end, each person must vote according to their conscience - if they have a vote. For the rest, it is a “wait and see” situation
 
In the end, each person must vote according to their conscience - if they have a vote. For the rest, it is a “wait and see” situation, with all the impotence felt by disenfranchised people. While Mr. Cameron travels around Europe trying to secure the agreement of other political leaders, he should perhaps concern himself first with his own citizens, who, through no fault of their own, are merely spectators as to what is likely to be the most important decision British people will make for generations.

Further reading for Living In Spain

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Finding work

There are a number of ways that UK expats can fund their lifestyle in Spain.

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Social life in Spain

Find out as much as you can about your new community and find new friends.

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Heathcare

Arrange health insurance and locate your new local hospitals and practices.

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Education in Spain

Emigrating with school-age children? Learn more about schooling in your local area.

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