Orihuela Costa’s political party C.L.A.R.O. was founded 10 years ago on the principle that exercising the right to vote was a legitimate, democratic and essential way to defend our interests in relation to the local government of Orihuela. We think the same principle applies in relation to the 23 June referendum on the United Kingdom’s continuing membership of the European Union.
The recent headline in an influential local newspaper “YOU COULD LOSE IT ALL” was directly addressed to the interests of British nationals living in Spain. It was the title of an article describing a UK government report on the consequences of a British decision to leave the EU. The report pointed out that the right to live and work in Spain, access to pensions, healthcare and public services, the right to start and run a business and several other rights, including the right to vote in local elections, that we take for granted and depend on are only guaranteed because of EU law. The report states that UK citizens resident abroad, among them those who have retired to Spain, would not be able to assume that these rights will be guaranteed if the UK were to leave the EU. At the very least, the report continues, any terms which the UK might seek for its own citizens in a negotiation to retain these rights would have to be offered to EU citizens wishing to come or stay in the UK.
Such a “successor” negotiation would be a very complicated and no doubt lengthy process which would have to be carried out with several countries not only Spain. Nor will these issues be of the highest importance and priority confronting the UK government in the event of a vote to leave the EU.
What would happen in the meantime to basic issues like continuing the receipt of pensions and access to healthcare? These are issues of concern. They would presumably be sorted out with time but uncertainty and suspension of existing rights could be very damaging to British citizens resident here. Since in Orihuela Costa, British residents account for some 65% of the total population, what happens to the British in the event of a withdrawal from the EU would have consequences for the rest of the population.
In this situation, C.L.A.R.O. URGES British nationals living in this area to VOTE IN THE REFERENDUM.
The procedure for applying to register to vote for those who are not still on a voters register in the UK is fortunately relatively simple, especially for those who have a valid British passport and a National Insurance number. The application can be made on-line using the official site www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. The procedure takes only a few minutes. The right to vote in the June referendum is limited to those who have left the UK less than 15 years ago. However, it is not clear how the electoral authorities define “left the UK”. Applicants are invited to give their own date of leaving the UK, without guidance as to what this means. Does it depend on the date of obtaining residence (residencia) in Spain or becoming a fiscal resident in Spain? In the light of this doubt, it would seem sensible to apply and leave it to the Electoral Authority to approve or reject your application.
The arrangements for voting by post are also being relaxed. Normally, ballot papers are only sent to overseas voters 4 working days before the date of an election. With the efficiency of the local post here this would make it almost impossible to receive and return the ballot papers before the election. However, since the ballot paper on 23 June will involve expressing a choice between “leave” or “remain” the electoral authorities say they will be sending the ballot papers to those registered to vote by post up to a month before the date of the referendum.
As we can already see, the decision facing voters in the UK is causing wide and passionate arguments. But what is and will be missing in the debate are some basic issues which affect those living and working here in Spain and hoping to continue to do so. The best way for us to defend our interests is by taking part in the vote. Remember, as in local elections, NO VOTE, NO VOICE and in the referendum, each vote will have the same weight and EVERY VOTE WILL COUNT.