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Long-term Brit in Italy barred from EU vote vows to fight on

A long-term Briton in Italy has said he is “disappointed and saddened” after losing a High Court bid to get the right to vote in the upcoming EU referendum.

Long-term Brit in Italy barred from EU vote vows to fight on
War veteran Harry Shindler has lived in Italy since 1982. Photo: Rosie Scammell

Harry Shindler, a 94-year-old war veteran, and Jacquelyn MacLennan, a Belgium-based expat, fought to change a British law that bars British expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in the crucial referendum on June 23rd.

The judgement means some two million British expats living in the EU are barred from casting their vote.

“I’m disappointed but more than that, I’m saddened that after hundreds of years there are still people fighting for the right to vote in democratic Britain,” Shindler, who has lived in Italy since 1982, told The Local.

“The people who are so violently opposed to us having a vote are the same ones who want Britain to leave the EU.

“The MPs who pontificate about Britain leaving the EU have never asked their electors about the vote – they’re all talking for themselves.”

Despite the setback, he vowed that “the battle is not over”.

He said he would appeal directly to British Prime Minister David Cameron to push through an amendment to the referendum bill allowing long-term expats to vote, and that campaigners will also appeal the latest judgement at the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court.

Shindler argues that rules governing the UK general elections, the basis for the referendum vote, are not being equally applied.

For example, members appointed to the House of Lords, the upper house of the UK parliament, who alongside British people overseas for more than 15 years are not allowed to vote in a general election, will be able to cast their vote in the upcoming referendum.

Following the judgment Richard Stein, the lawyer from Leigh Day representing the claimants, said: “We are obviously disappointed that the High Court has denied us the opportunity to challenge the decision by the government to exclude British citizens from the EU referendum.

“We now intend to take the legal battle to the Supreme Court, the highest Court in the country, so that all British citizens living elsewhere in the EU can be part of the democratic process to vote in this referendum which will have a very real impact on their lives.

“We believe that there is precedent for fast track legislation being put through parliament in a matter of days in response to the court judgment, so there would be no need for the referendum to be delayed if the Supreme Court rules in our favour.
“Since this is a vote in a referendum rather than in an election there is no need to link the votes of Britons in Europe to any particular constituency in the UK. Possession of a British passport should be enough.”
 

BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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