The government can continue to stick plasters over Brexit, but the damage it has done to Britons abroad is undeniable, writes Bremain Vice Chair Lisa Burton for The New European.
We Brits love to emigrate, with almost one in ten living overseas. Yet, the portrayal of British migrants living in the EU is awash with stereotypes, principally due to the UK media’s insistence on referring to us as ‘expats.’ TV programmes like ‘Bargain Loving Brits Abroad’ don’t help, neither does their insistence on reporting from British enclaves whenever seeking our views on Brexit. The truth is however, we are as diverse as the British population itself. There are 1.3 million of us officially resident in the EU; on average, 79% are of working age and below.
An estimated 3.4 million UK citizens living overseas are disenfranchised. In 2016, at the time of the Brexit referendum, 60% of us residing in the EU had no vote, even though it would strip us of our EU citizenship. The issues we face post-Brexit are broad, complex, and far-reaching due to the loss of freedom of movement. Yet our own government cheered and celebrated, stripping these rights from not just us but every one of our fellow compatriots.
If you are wealthy, you can obtain the relevant visa and move to another country with some time, effort, and money. But it is no longer an option for most British people. If you have a low-income job or a state pension, forget it. Even though the cost of living is far cheaper in Spain, to qualify for a non-lucrative visa, the minimum income requirements are €2,400 per month, almost double the current UK state pension.
In 2018, I was still angry about how the UK government dealt with Brexit, but I felt my geographical position meant I could do nothing about it. Then, I found the citizens’ rights group Bremain in Spain. I immediately got in touch, became a member, and started campaigning. It allowed me to channel my frustrations and put them to good use.
Bremain works closely with dozens of Pro-EU groups across the UK and the EU. We give evidence to Parliament and Lord’s Select Committees. We worked closely with the British Embassy team in Madrid, reporting back to them on the issues British nationals were facing on the ground. We campaigned for ‘Votes for Life’ to end the arbitrary 15-year limit on overseas voters. It was a massive win for all those who campaigned and is part of The Elections Act 2022, which received Royal Assent on the 28th of April 2022. While we now must engage in information campaigns to inform and encourage people to vote, any British person overseas should be able to vote in the next General Election.
It’s a game-changer, and we are currently collaborating with New Europeans, the True and Fair Party, Lib Dems Abroad, France and EU, Unlock Democracy, and many others on a campaign for overseas constituencies so Brits abroad have dedicated MPs and representation in parliament. We recently had our first collaborative meeting with the EU Commission’s Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights, the committee in which the UK and the EU can raise concerns and issues with the other party on their implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, and we are members of the Make Votes Matter Alliance.
I am now Vice-Chair of Bremain and their representative on the European Movement UK national council. We campaign because we are patriots, and we, above all, understand more than anyone the incredible gift that freedom of movement was because we are living proof of it.
This September 23rd, I will speak on stage at the National Rejoin March in London. I will bring a positive message about freedom of movement. Our politicians can put sticking plasters on Brexit as much as they like, but as pro-Europeans, we are not going away until every person in the UK, no matter their wealth or social class, have the same rights and opportunities as 450 million of our European neighbours. Not until British people can live, love, travel, study and retire freely across this incredible continent once again.
Lisa Burton is Campaigning to Rejoin the EU from Spain. For all the info, go to www.MarchForRejoin.co.uk