Britain’s upcoming referendum on whether to remain in the EU will have a huge effect on the 2 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 more than 2,700 people across Europe to find out what these expats were thinking.
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’.
“This survey shows the overwhelming consensus among Brits living abroad for remaining in Europe,” James McGrory, chief campaign spokesman of Britain Stronger In Europe told The Local.
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.
“Don't we owe something to the legacy of people like my Dad and father-in-law?” Jane Golding. Photo: Private
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.
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,” McGrory said. “The Leave campaigns’ plan for Britain – to pull the UK economy out of the single market altogether – could see every British ex-pat’s automatic right to live abroad thrown into doubt.”
'Brexiteers have no idea what will happen'
Brits living in Germany who The Local reached out to outside the survey were largely in favour of remaining in the EU, with many expressing fears about what a Brexit would mean for their careers.
“I practise here in Berlin under my British lawyers's qualifications which are recognized under EU mutual recognition provisions. My rights to continue working here under those qualifications won't be guaranteed in the case of Brexit,” Berlin resident Jane Golding said.
But Golding said that remaining part of the European project also had a personal meaning for her, as her father and father-in-law fought on opposing sides in the Second World War.
The meaning of the EU is “peace in our time, a peaceful end to the Cold War and a structure in place to ensure Europe never again descends into the horror of war,” she said. “ What right has our generation to take that away from our kids? Don't we owe something to the legacy of people like my Dad and father-in-law?”
Ellen Sellwood, who has been living in Hamburg for 18 months, where she works as an English teacher and freelance journalist, said that she has benefited from being an EU citizen by paying low tuition fees at universities on the continent.
'I feel sad, both personally and on behalf of other British young people,' Ellen Selwood. Photo: private
“I feel very anxious about my life and future job prospects if we left the EU. Every time I think about the possibility of a Brexit I feel sad, both personally and on behalf of other British young people who may never experience the benefits I’ve had from being a British European Union citizen,” she added.
Ian Faulkner, who has set up his own beer company in Hamburg, expressed a common fear when he said that the business environment in the case of a Brexit seems highly uncertain.
“Brexiteers seem to have no idea what will happen – and why should I, as a non-EU member, get the same privileges if we’re not willing to play our part in the EU as a whole?” Faulkner asked.
Will people actually vote from abroad?
In order to be able to vote in the referendum, expats need to hold a British passport and to have been resident in the UK within the last 15 years.
But just under a quarter of our overall respondents fit the criteria – a total of 673 people. And of those who had the right to cast a vote, an overwhelming majority (86 percent) said they were planning to do so.
For those in the 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.
Meanwhile, 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 an 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.
Alternatively, you can go to the website Vote in the EU Referendum, a non-partisan website put together by British expats in Berlin to encourage others to vote, which takes you through the process.
Some 58 percent of survey respondents said they would be trying to persuade others to vote in a certain way – so don’t be surprised if you find the referendum an increasingly popular topic among your expat contacts.
The most popular method for trying to sway their friends’ votes was in conversation (84 percent), while 46 percent said they would take to social media to spread the word.
“Whatever decision people make, they should make it by being clear-headed and informed,” Hillen said, “and what's most important is to vote, of course.”
Reporting and writing by Catherine Edwards