A FACEBOOK support group for British expats worried about the effects of Brexit on their lives in Spain says the UK High Court’s decision that Parliament should vote on triggering Article 50 is ‘great news for democracy’.
“A much-needed shot in the arm which I hope will encourage everyone to write to their MPs and strengthen their resolve to fight Brexit with all their might,” says the administrator of the group Bremain in Spain.
“We are hugely in debt to Gina Miller, Grahame Pigney, Wynne Edwards and Paul Cartwright, and everyone else involved in the court case.”
British businesswoman Gina Miller was one of the key drivers of the crowd-funded appeal fighting for Parliament to be given the right to debate and vote upon whether or not to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the as-yet unused clause on leaving the EU which would start the two-year exit process.
She has since suffered a huge amount of abuse on social networks, reveal Bremain in Spain administrators, and backlash from right-wing UK tabloids.
The citizens involved in the court case argued that according to the text in the European Union referendum bill, the vote was merely an information-gathering exercise and is not binding, meaning the government is under no legal obligation to act upon it if it does not believe it to be in the best interests of the country and its people.
Despite outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron having stated in his manifesto that he would comply with the results of the referendum, the actual text of the bill of law drawn up to cover it stated the exact opposite: that it was merely a formal public opinion poll.
As a result, Cameron’s successor Theresa May (pictured) should not, the plaintiffs to the court case argued, have the right to unilaterally create a major Constitutional change without subjecting it to Parliamentary vote first.
Not doing so would undermine the sovereignty of Britain’s Parliament – precisely the sovereignty that the ‘Vote Leave’ campaigners convinced Brexit supporters was a benefit of leaving the EU.
The referendum bill stretched suffrage rights to include Commonwealth citizens visiting or living in the UK, plus Gibraltar residents and nationals, which would not normally apply in a general election – but Brits living in the EU who had been outside the UK for 15 years or more and already disenfranchised from national elections were told that to allow them to decide their future in the EU was ‘too complex and time-consuming’ to bring into force before the referendum went ahead.
But three months after the referendum results, the Conservative government lifted the 15-year limit in accordance with its campaign manifesto.
Brits living in Europe said this was ‘too little, too late’.
Bremain in Spain is actively encouraging British expats living in Spain to write to their MPs at their last constituency in the UK to voice their concerns about the effects of leaving the European Union.
Even if they cannot convince MPs to fight to block Brexit, making them aware of their presence and very real worries may influence negotiations.
Whilst pensioners and early retirees fear the loss of healthcare rights and their pension index linking being frozen, younger expats worry about having to fight for work permits, and both are concerned about needing visas to stay in their new countries.
But the implications go beyond this: not being EU citizens means they will not be able to vote in local council elections, despite many Britons being councillors in their home towns in Spain, and could also impede ease of travel and periods of longer-term residence, work or study.
Brits born in Spain may no longer be able to enjoy the right to study at UK universities or move there for jobs, and those with elderly relatives in Britain worry they may not be able to spend extended periods in the country caring for them unless they give up their residence rights in Spain, potentially preventing them getting this status back.
Conversely, it is just as likely none of this will happen and bilateral agreements or flexibility in EU member State negotiations put citizens’ protection and freedom first – but the crucial point is that nobody knows either way and the UK government has not said or done anything to reassure its people.