Could Brits in Europe put the brakes on Brexit?
Britain’s upcoming referendum on whether to remain in the EU will have a huge effect on the two million Brits living in Europe – and many of these expats have a right to vote. But will they, and if so, how? The Local surveyed people across Europe to find out what these expats were thinking.
Expats vote ‘remain’
Of the 673 people surveyed who had the right to cast a vote in the British referendum on June 23rd, an overwhelming majority (86 percent) said they were planning to do so.
And our survey revealed that, with over two months to go until the referendum date, 94 percent had already made up their minds. 67 percent were firmly in the ‘Remain’ camp, while 28 percent were planning to vote ‘Leave’.
James McGrory, Chief Campaign Spokesman of Britain Stronger In Europe, said: “This survey shows the overwhelming consensus among Brits living abroad for remaining in Europe. As a full EU member, British people can travel, live and work freely across Europe, and they’re entitled to free healthcare if something goes wrong.
“If we left, no-one can guarantee that would continue. The Leave campaigns’ plan for Britain – to pull the UK economy out of the single market altogether – could see every British expat’s automatic right to live abroad thrown into doubt”.
When contacted by The Local, a Vote Leave press officer said she was not in a position to comment on expat voters or the impact of the referendum on Brits living abroad. A spokesperson for the Better Off Out campaign, who did not wish to be named, said that their group hadn't had any contact with British expats.
"I can't make a judgment on how expats would be affected by the referendum result – individuals can make their own minds up. We are concentrating on making a positive case to all voters and hope that those who wish to vote will recognize the benefits for the UK."
Brits in Switzerland decide
The approximately 40,000 British people in Switzerland already live outside the EU, but that doesn’t stop them having strong opinions on the subject, as The Local discovered in March.
And as June 23rd approaches, many Switzerland-based Brits have already made up their mind how to vote.
Speaking to The Local on Thursday, a British lawyer who has lived in Geneva for 13 years said she intended to vote ‘Remain’ because “the potential isolation from an exit would be damaging to the economy”.
However the lawyer – who preferred not to be named – acknowledged there could be some benefits to leaving, not least that EU financial legislation due to come into force in 2017 may no longer be applied in Britain “which may make it an interesting place for business”.
Josh Hawkins, a British fuel oil trader in Switzerland for the past decade, also plans to vote ‘Remain’ “to enjoy freedom of movement and work across the EU for the rest of my lifetime,” he told The Local.
“There are too many uncertainties regarding what the UK replaces the EU with, but it will probably be the first step in the disintegration of the EU,” he added. “On balance I believe the EU to be a good thing so would rather the EU stayed and expanded rather than collapsed. Bring in Turkey and the Ukraine.”
By contrast, a British broker in the canton of Vaud told The Local he would be voting to leave. “I think it's important for a country to be able to decide all laws which affect its citizens by itself and not for them to be imposed by a partially unelected council sitting in a totally different country,” he said.
While he said he didn’t think life would change for Brits in Switzerland in the event of a Brexit, he felt the referendum still affected him because “anything that affects my friends and family living in the UK affects me. Also the decision will stand for decades so when I move back to the UK it will directly affect me”.
How do I register?
As for the 95 people in The Local’s survey who were not planning to vote, the main reason for abstaining (selected by 49 percent of the non-voters) was that it was too complicated to register.
A further 11 percent felt that their vote did not matter, while seven percent didn’t think they would be affected by the outcome of the referendum and a further seven percent did not understand enough about the issue.
Of those who intended to vote in the referendum, only 75 percent had already registered – and of the remaining 25 percent, a majority (68 percent) did not know how to vote.
If you are a British expat living in the EU and want to have your say in the referendum but don't know how, read our ten-point guide to registering here. https://www.thelocal.es/20160203/how-you-can-register-to-vote-in-the-eu-referendum