Alex is a bright ambitious 26-year-old British-Asian student studying in Germany. A former flight attendant for a major airline, he made the decision to go to university later than most and is due to graduate with degree which could give him access to 28 job markets across the EU, as well as skills in German and Dutch.
Gill is a 72-year-old pensioner living in France. She and her husband moved there when they retired 14 years ago and have settled in well with their local community. They have French and British friends and love living there.
Both Alex and Gill represent different aspects of the British expat experience in Europe. And both share the same anxieties about what the future holds for them and other Brits after the EU referendum on 23rd June.
At 2.2 million the UK’s expat community across Europe is roughly equivalent to a city the size of Manchester. That’s no small number but only a tiny part of the monumental headache any British government would have to deal with when negotiating any post-Brexit settlement.
Since David Cameron got his deal in Brussels and announced the date of the referendum we have seen a lot more discussion about what could happen to the rights, benefits and residency status of Brits living in EU countries. But we must remember that much of this is speculative: no one knows for certain what will happen if Britain chooses to leave the EU.
So the only way expats can be 100% sure of their pension and healthcare rights (to name but two) is to vote ‘remain’ on 23rd June. It is that simple.
This means that expats who can still vote should register for a proxy or postal vote as soon as possible. Only 109,000 British expats voted to register for the General Election in 2015. And that’s the global figure. Not the EU one.
George Cunningham, pictured outside the UK Parliament. Photo: Private
The Electoral Commission reports that there has been some increase in registration recently. But much more is needed. Registering now is particularly crucial because it was only a year ago that many of our members told us they couldn’t vote in the General Election due to administrative problems and cock-ups by local councils.
Furthermore, expats who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years should continue to make a fuss and urge family and friends to vote ‘remain’; if not for them then to secure the right for Brits to study, work and retire across the EU in future. Voting in the EU referendum is a once in a generation decision and one that will have an impact on our all our family and friends for years to come.
And finally, for many expats (both in the EU and worldwide) anxiety over referendum is about much more than self-interest. We experience daily what it means to live in the international community and the values and benefits that this brings. It’s no surprise, therefore that the Liberal Democrats have called their campaign #INtogether.
With the polls as tight as they are, expats who care about their future and Britain’s place in the world must register to vote as soon as possible. Every vote will count and expats may well hold the balance.
George Cunningham is Chair of Brits Abroad: Yes to Europe, an expat campaign group to keep Britain in the EU. It is a non-partisan get out the vote initiative run by the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats. managed by the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats. The campaign has a Facebook page with up-to-date news about the debate on: https://www.facebook.com/BritsAbroadYestoEurope/