Sue Wilson Writes: Why Brits in Spain should care about the EU elections

Sue Wilson Writes: Why Brits in Spain should care about the EU elections

Sue WilsonBefore last week’s local elections in England and Northern Ireland, the Conservatives were preparing themselves for a big defeat. Most forecasts suggested a loss of around 800 seats, with the gloomiest predictions suggesting 1,000.

When the final scores were known, the humiliating loss of Conservative seats totalled 1,334, with the control of 45 councils lost. Prime Minister, Theresa May, responded by saying that the government realised the local elections were “going to be particularly challenging” and that Brexit was “an added dimension”.

Traditionally, mid-term local elections are an occasion when the public expresses some dissatisfaction with the incumbent government. At such times, you would expect the opposition party to do well at the government’s expense. However, despite the government’s terrible performance, the Labour party did not capitalise – rather than gain seats as expected, it lost control of five councils and 82 council seats.

The big winners were the Liberal Democrats, gaining 703 seats, and the Green Party, gaining 194. Despite the public voting in significant numbers to reject the main parties in favour of anti-Brexit parties, both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn seem determined to plough on with Brexit regardless.

Having witnessed the most humiliating government defeat in a quarter of a century, Theresa May clearly remains deaf to the voices of the British public and the many calls for her resignation. If the lost Tory votes had been gained by pro-Brexit candidates, and not anti-Brexit parties, May would be justified in claiming that the public wants the government “to get on and sort Brexit out”. However, this was far from the reality.

Jeremy Corbyn’s interpretation of events was also surprising, given the prevailing results. He claimed the results were “very, very clear” and that “a deal has to be done”.

Cross-party talks continue between Labour and the Conservatives to seek agreement on the Brexit deal. Last week, before the election results were known, May imposed a deadline – the middle of this week – on the cross-party negotiations. Despite reports that the talks are “positive and productive”, both sides accuse the other of unwillingness to compromise, so it’s difficult to see how a breakthrough could be made anytime soon.

At least the government has dropped its pretense that the UK’s participation in the European Elections can be avoided. However, May is still hopeful of striking a deal by the end of June, to prevent British MEPs taking their seats in the new European parliament on 2 July. It’s questionable what could be agreed by the end of June that couldn’t be agreed by the end of April or May.

The local election results may reflect the current voting preferences of the British public, but only provide a partial view. The elections only covered councils in certain parts of the UK and excluded some Remain strongholds, such as London and Scotland. Had those areas been involved, the results would probably be even more pro-European. 

Another significant factor was the limited selection of parties available – especially the absence of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which is currently topping the polls in the contest for Europe. The new Change.UK party (formerly the Independent Group) is also fielding many MEP candidates, but did not participate in the local elections.

Brits in Spain and throughout the UK couldn’t participate in the local elections but we can have our say on 23 May in the European elections. That is, those of us fortunate enough to retain our voting rights in the UK. While many have elected to use their vote here in Spain, others – me included – have chosen to vote in the UK.

If you’re eligible to vote, please ensure that you’re registered to do so. The deadline for registering online is close of business on Tuesday May 7th. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Whether you voted to Leave or Remain, and whether you still feel the same way, don’t waste our limited opportunities to have a voice and a say. Brexit is an unmitigated disaster and we’re being poorly served by our government, which is deaf and blind to public sentiment on the biggest issue of our time.

Let’s ensure a good turnout at the European elections in the hope that Theresa May finally starts listening to the prevailing ‘will of the people’. Failing that, May won’t be around much longer. We can only hope that her replacement will have better hearing and eyesight.

Sue Wilson article from the The Local

Sue Wilson Writes: ‘Election result brings welcome reassurance for Brits living in Spain’

Sue Wilson Writes: ‘Election result brings welcome reassurance for Brits living in Spain’

Everywhere we go at present, there’s talk of an election. Whether it’s the Spanish general election, local elections, or the European elections, it’s hardly surprising that some of us are suffering from election fatigue, or we’re confused about the implications of the potential election results.

The result of the Spanish election on Sunday brought some welcome reassurance for Brits living in Spain, as the Spanish public was galvanised into voting both for and against the far-right. Despite being the third election in four years, turnout reached up to 75 percent. Although the Vox party made gains, its success didn’t reach the predicted level and was countered by an increase in the numbers of seats for the left and the government. The biggest loser was the centre-right PP, whose vote share collapsed – a warning, perhaps, to Theresa May’s government.

With the expectation that a coalition government can be formed, I think many Brits will sleep better at night with the prospect of stability and continuity in Spanish government. The increase in seats for PSOE provided additional reassurances that promises already made to the British residents would be honoured.

While British citizens in Spain were concerned about the impact of Spanish politics on our future, many are more concerned with events in the UK. Although we cannot participate in the UK local elections, many of us will be watching closely to see if predictions are correct – i.e. that the Conservatives and, perhaps, Labour will do badly.

The UK local elections next weekend, and the forthcoming European elections, will both serve to indicate how the British public feels – i.e. what is the now the ‘will of the people’? While incumbent governments traditionally do badly in mid-term local elections, the level of protest could be even greater than would normally be expected. The results will be a barometer of the nation’s feelings towards the government and, especially, towards Brexit. If, as expected, anti-Brexit parties such as the Liberal Democrats do well, the effect could be significant, making it increasingly difficult for the government to claim any kind of mandate for trying to further its Brexit course of action.

If the local elections could influence government strategy re Brexit, then the European elections could be more significant. While the Prime Minister still insists that Britain won’t participate, it’s almost impossible to see a scenario where this can be avoided. The only way to halt the process is for May’s rather unpopular Brexit deal to be agreed by parliament. With cross-party talks going nowhere at present, that outcome seems highly unlikely.

Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party hit the ground running with the launch of its EU election campaign ahead of the competition. Most pundits think it will do well, taking European Parliament seats from UKIP and the Conservatives. Labour seats are also at risk, unless its manifesto clearly states strong support for a #PeoplesVote and a Remain and Reform platform.

The turnout in the UK for voting in European elections has always been low. As with everything else related to Europe, the UK has never been active in promoting the benefits or the responsibilities of EU membership. Had we been more involved in the past, perhaps we wouldn’t be where we are today.

I personally take some of that blame, as I haven’t previously participated in European elections. I intend to correct that mistake on May 23rd, when I will vote for a pro-EU, anti-Brexit party. I hope that those of you who value our EU citizenship, and all the rights and benefits associated with it, will join me in voting, if they can, and will encourage friends, family, colleagues and neighbours to do the same.

On May 23rd, the UK has an opportunity to rally against the far-right, to show that the British people are tolerant, inclusive and pro-European. The Spanish have demonstrated that, by turning out in large numbers, the divisive effect of right-wing extremism can be limited. We must take every opportunity to do the same – the future of the UK and Europe depends on it.

See Sue’s article in The Local

 

Sue Wilson Writes: Brits in the EU have been silenced too frequently and for too long

Sue Wilson Writes: Brits in the EU have been silenced too frequently and for too long

Sue WilsonHaving been denied a vote in the Brexit referendum, the thoughts of many Brits in Europe are now turning to a possible second vote. Sue Wilson from Bremain in Spain explains why a new campaign has been launched.

On Friday April 5th, a new campaign was launched to give full voting rights to 10 million disenfranchised British and European citizens.

The “Let Us Vote” campaign launched by film director, Mike Leigh, was supported by 14 politicians from both houses of parliament, including MPs David Lammy, Layla Moran and Clive Lewis. Further support comes from citizens’ rights and anti-Brexit campaign groups including British in Europe, the 3 Million and Another Europe is Possible.

The goal of the campaign is to give all UK residents (EU citizens included), and all British citizens living overseas, the right to vote in elections and referendums. So many British citizens living in the EU, along with UK resident EU citizens, were denied the right to vote in the June 2016 referendum, despite the fact that we have been significantly affected by the result.

Bremain in Spain, and other citizens rights’ groups, have been campaigning for ‘Votes for Life’ for many years, although for considerably less time than 97-year-old, Harry Shindler, MBE, who has been campaigning for over 20 years. Ever since the Conservative party committed to the restoration of voting rights to disenfranchised Brits, we have been hopeful, patient and a little sceptical.

The government’s commitment to resolving this issue was announced in the Queen’s speech of 27 May 2015, shortly after the general election. David Cameron made a manifesto commitment to restore voting rights to citizens living outside the UK for more than 15 years. A further commitment was made in the 2017 Conservative manifesto, with a promise to restore our voting rights before the next (scheduled) election in 2022. We now have a Private Members Bill – The Overseas Electors Bill 2017-2019 – sponsored by Glyn Davies MP.

The Bill has made slow but steady progress through parliament. I personally attended two of the debates in the House of Commons, including the last one on March 22. Unfortunately, at its’ last appearance for the Report Stage, the bill was filibustered by a Tory MP who sought to wreck its progress by talking it out of time. The bill is now ‘adjourned’, and the only subsequent response from the government has been that it “remains committed” to ending the 15-year limit.

The lack of a say in the 2016 referendum, and the snap election of 2017, has been a cause of great concern and annoyance for those affected by the results. British citizens have been greatly impacted by the referendum result and, as with EU citizens in the UK, have lived with fear, anxiety, stress, rage and depression. It’s bad enough to suffer those effects, but to have had no say in the process adds salt to the wound.

Mike Leigh expressed our feelings at the launch of the ‘Let us vote’ campaign.  He said: “The outcome of the next few weeks in politics could determine the course of our lives for decades to come. But many of the people who are most affected by the current situation – migrants living in the UK, and UK citizens living abroad – have never been offered the chance to have a stake in our democracy. Whatever our views on Brexit and party politics, we are united in the belief that it is fundamentally wrong that so many millions of people whose lives will be deeply affected by developments at Westminster are currently denied a vote.”

Having been denied a vote in the last referendum, our thoughts are now turning to the next one – a People’s Vote – which seems increasingly on the cards. Even with sufficient political will and a strong wind, it seems unlikely the bill will pass in time to give us a vote. All the more reason to welcome this new campaign and to give it, and its’ sponsors, our full support.

Brits in the EU have been silenced too frequently and for too long. Whether it’s our inability to take advantage of our democratic voting rights, or to have our voices heard by the British government and the media, we will not stay silent. As stated on our banner at the recent ‘Put it to the People’ march in London, it’s time to ‘Give us a Voice, Give us a Vote, Give us a Final Say’. These are our futures we are talking about – time we had a stake in them.

The full article in The Local

 

Sue Wilson Writes: Happy Un-Brexit Day! – A time of confused emotions for Brits in Spain

Sue Wilson Writes: Happy Un-Brexit Day! – A time of confused emotions for Brits in Spain

Bremain in Spain’s Sue Wilson expects more shocks, surprises, twists, turns, and time-wasting. But in the meantime, be thankful that Brexit didn’t happen on March 29th.

For the last two years, ever since the triggering of Article 50, the clock has been ticking down to Brexit Day. Over 100 times, Theresa May informed parliament and the British people that we would be leaving the European Union on March 29th, 2019, but she finally accepted that this wasn’t going to be the case.

Brexit Day or not, last Friday was a momentous landmark in the Brexit story. The Leave campaign’s march arrived in London, after its long and poorly-attended trek from Sunderland – a trek on which its leader, Nigel Farage, showed only minimal participation. More importantly, Theresa May brought back the Withdrawal Agreement to the House of Commons for one final attempt to gain parliamentary support for her twice-defeated deal. Friday 29th was a day of mixed emotions for British citizens in Spain.

Despite the media asserting that Theresa May was destined to lose the vote, many people were naturally concerned that the deal would somehow pass, resulting in us leaving the EU on 22 May with our rights diminished. Despite the demands of citizens’ rights groups, such as British in Europe, both sides of the negotiating table have failed to ring-fence the rights already ‘agreed’ in the Withdrawal Agreement, and their reluctance to do so continues.

For many Bremain in Spain members, Friday 29th was a day of celebration. Or, as we like to call it, Un-Brexit Day! A day to celebrate our progress in the battle for another referendum – this time round, a fair, honest and legal referendum.

A year ago, campaigners for a second vote – and those discussing Brexit being postponed, or even cancelled – were considered dreamers. Our goals were deemed as being equally “unrealistic” as the fantastical visions of Brexit espoused by the Leave campaign. Yet here we are in April 2019, still members of the European Union, still European citizens, and with a real chance of achieving our goals. On Wednesday March 27th, parliament took control of the Brexit process for a day, the intention being to debate and vote on alternative options to May’s unpopular deal. Eight options were considered. While none achieved a majority, two clear favourites emerged: a customs union add-on, defeated by a mere eight votes, and a confirmatory referendum, which received the most votes.

The option of leaving with no deal was soundly defeated, with 400 MPs voting against it. To date, this is the most significant indication that parliament won’t tolerate a no-deal scenario, as May readily acknowledged. Parliament will repeat the process again this week, as it’s trying to reach consensus. Meanwhile, May seems intent on bringing back her deal for a fourth attempt: clearly, she still believes this is the only possible Brexit route. It’s debatable whether the Speaker, John Bercow, will allow a further attempt. The biggest concern for British citizens living and working in EU27 countries is the fear of a no-deal scenario on April 12th. As this is still the legal default option, fear of it happening has increased since the EU responded to recent events in Westminster by claiming that no-deal was now “more likely”. An emergency EU summit has been scheduled for April 10th. Before this date, the Prime Minister must apply for a long extension and commit to taking part in the European elections.

The EU will set further conditions – most likely a public vote or a general election – both of which are now being openly discussed in parliament. I still believe a no-deal scenario will never happen – as I did last week, last month and last year. UK parliament has finally flexed its muscles and it’s not finished yet. Parliament has confirmed that it won’t allow the UK to crash out of the EU under those damaging circumstances – even if it means a delay, a compromise, a new Prime Minister, or even a new government. We aren’t out of the woods yet! We can expect more shocks, surprises, twists, turns, and time-wasting.

However, we must be thankful that Brexit didn’t happen on March 29th, that May’s bad deal has been defeated – not once, not twice, but three times – and that a #PeoplesVote referendum is increasingly popular and close to reaching a majority amongst law-makers. Most importantly, we are still European citizens, with all the benefits of EU membership. I’ve said it before: three’s only one way to guarantee retaining our precious rights and freedoms – and that’s to stop Brexit. Not only are we closer to that goal than ever before, but a majority in the UK demonstrably wants the same outcome. So, pop that Cava cork and let’s celebrate our success. Happy Un-Brexit Day to all!

By Sue Wilson – For The Local

Sue Wilson Writes: Why we Britons in Spain had to march for a People’s Vote

Sue Wilson Writes: Why we Britons in Spain had to march for a People’s Vote

On Saturday 23 March, I was privileged to join the ‘Put it to the People’ March in London, alongside over 100 of our Bremain in Spain members.

Campaigning for a ‘People’s Vote’ has always been a priority for Bremain, so this wasn’t the first time we’d voted with our feet, but it was our biggest ever marching contingent.

The timing of the march was critical, coming just six days before the scheduled Brexit date of 29 March, which has now been postponed. Expectations ran high that numbers would exceed the 700,000 who marched in October. The organisers were not disappointed, with numbers confirmed at well over one million people.

Bremain in Spain marched with other campaign groups: Brexpats Hear our Voice, In Limbo Project and Espanoles de Reino Unido – a group of Spanish citizens based in the UK. We were also joined by a Spanish TV crew that was filming a documentary called ‘30 minutes’, scheduled for broadcast on TV3 in April.

Many excellent speakers – including First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, deputy Labour leader, Tom Watson and Lord Michael Heseltine – gave passionate speeches about the shocking state of Brexit, and the urgent need for another referendum. This is now the only democratic and sensible option left to extract Britain from the Brexit impasse.

Since Theresa May gave her widely derided speech on Wednesday evening, pitting the public against parliament and laying the blame for the failure of Brexit at the feet of MPs, there has been a noticeable change in mood. Both the public and parliament have reacted rather differently from how May might have hoped or expected, by expressing widespread outrage. Most notably, the public has been signing a new petition, ‘Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU’ (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584), literally with millions of signatures, making it the largest petition in British history. It seems that we Remainers are making history all over the place at present!

The march itself was peaceful, fun, full of humour, hope and inspiration. The inventiveness of the banners and the costumes was a sight to behold, and I was in good company in my blue wig! 

Following events on the main stage in Parliament Square, the No. 10 Vigil hosted its own event opposite Downing Street at its usual, thrice-weekly venue. I was invited to make a speech on behalf of the five million UK-in-EU and EU-in-UK citizens, and directed much of my speech directly at Theresa May. I reminded the crowd how the British citizens in the EU have been ignored and side-lined since June 2016 – out of sight and out of mind. How our rights and freedoms have been threatened, and how the only way to guarantee their preservation is to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. 

With the petition and the march, we are now closer to reaching our goals than ever before. A year ago, only 25 MPs supported another referendum – now it’s rumoured to be 10 times that number and climbing. The amazing events on Saturday will not have gone unnoticed in

Westminster or, indeed, in Brussels, and the appeal of putting the Brexit issue back to the public will only continue to grow.

This week, parliament will debate alternatives to Theresa May’s unpopular deal, with the aim of reaching consensus. With Remain MPs committed to averting a no-deal Brexit, and extreme Brexiters equally determined to prevent any softening of Brexit, it’s difficult to see what other option might achieve a majority. Putting the decision back to the people could be the only option that stands any chance of being supported by both sides.

It was always the intention of the People’s Vote campaign to not push too hard or too soon in parliament for another referendum, in the hope of ruling out other options first. A People’s Vote referendum needs to be the ‘last man standing’, so the timing has always been crucial. Whether all campaigners agree with that approach is questionable, but nobody can argue about the success of the march or the wide media coverage achieved on Saturday.

For those taking part, the march was a chance to feel part of something historic and significant – a huge shot in everyone’s arm that made us even more determined to do everything we can to further the battle.

For me personally, it was a fantastic opportunity to meet friends old and new, to put faces to names, and to be moved by the passion and eloquence of speakers and marchers alike. We are closer than ever to another referendum but, as I said in my speech, “we should not think of it as a second referendum, but as a first referendum based on the facts – a referendum that is fair, honest and legal”.

Theresa May’s lead role in the Brexit soap opera looks destined to end soon. It’s difficult to see how she could have alienated more people, had she been trying! So, I’ll end here as I ended my speech on Saturday, with a direct message for the Prime Minister, from Brits all over the EU: “You are not on my side. You do not speak for me. It’s time to pack your bags and leave!”

The UK is not leaving the EU on Friday March 29 – but wouldn’t that be a great day for May to make her exit!

Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

Article from The Local

The Brexit soap opera rumbles on but now you can play a part

The Brexit soap opera rumbles on but now you can play a part

I hope you’ve been paying close attention to the latest developments in Westminster over the last couple of weeks. The viewing public has been gifted nightly with extended episodes of the Brexit soap opera, full of drama and surprises, betrayal and back-stabbing.

All that’s missing from the end-of-season finale is a wedding and a murder! Don’t worry if you’ve missed anything – the lead characters will return this week for a repeat performance.

For those who missed last week’s momentous events, here’s a brief synopsis:

True to her word, the Prime Minister scheduled three days of debates and votes with the hope of making progress on Brexit. On Tuesday March 12th, May’s deal went back to the House of Commons for a second ‘meaningful vote’, only to suffer another spectacular defeat, although by a slightly less humiliating margin than first time round.

On Wednesday March 13th, parliament finally had a more substantial debate on ruling out a no-deal scenario. May’s motion was rather woolly, stating that while parliament could rule it out, no-deal would remain the default option if her deal wasn’t accepted. Thankfully, Labour MP Yvette Cooper ensured that parliament voted against a no-deal scenario under any circumstances, thereby providing much-needed relief for people who were losing sleep over that prospect.

The final event came on Thursday March 14th, with the promised debate and vote on asking the EU to extend Article 50. This was a government motion but May allowed a free vote to discourage resignations from Tory ministers. Eight cabinet ministers took advantage of that freedom and voted against the government, including the Brexit Secretary himself!

So, by the end-of-week finale, May’s deal had been voted down, a no-deal scenario had been ruled out, and it was confirmed that we are not leaving the EU on March 29th, whatever happens next. (I don’t like to say “I told you so” but I will anyway!)

Read Sue’s full article in The Local