'It makes me angry more than anything': British expats lament Brexit as they face losing voting rights and election roles

John Leicester speaks with some of the many Britons who are losing their right to have a say in the running of places they have lived for decades

Thursday 30 January 2020 16:45 GMT
Elaine Bastian will have to give up her seat on the council of Blond in France, where she has lived for many years
Elaine Bastian will have to give up her seat on the council of Blond in France, where she has lived for many years (AP)

For many Britons living in towns and villages across Europe, the arrival of Brexit on Friday night will mean losing the right to vote and stand for office.

From being active participants in the communities where they have spread roots and paid taxes, British expatriates in France, Germany and elsewhere in the European Union will suddenly find themselves on the outside with no say.

Andrew Nixey must give up his seat on the elected council in Saint-Martial-sur-Isop, the village in west-central France where he has lived and raised cattle for 20 years.

He said: “The fact that we can't vote is illogical.

“We pay taxes, why should we not vote?”

In the German village of Brunsmark, Brexit is forcing Scotsman Iain Macnab to cut short his third term as mayor which was not due to end until 2023.

German authorities told him last year that his voting rights and his mayorship of the village of 170 people must end with Britain's EU withdrawal.

Mr Macnab said: “The guillotine is there.

“I will have a glass of sparkling wine with the local council on Friday and then thank them for doing an excellent job, and I will disappear into the twilight, ride off into the sunset.”

Many details of Britain's separation from the EU still must be sorted out, and there will not be many visible changes on Saturday, after the tortuous divorce process finally becomes official.

However, the loss will be felt by Britons who left years ago to make new lives on the continent.

Already disenfranchised by British electoral law, which prevents expatriates from voting in the United Kingdom after 15 years overseas, Brexit will for many usher in an uncertain future with no ability to vote anywhere.

The problem could be fixed by becoming citizens of where they have chosen to live - which can be a drawn-out process.

However, some expatriates do not meet the requirements, some have applied but are still awaiting the paperwork, and some simply do not want to change citizenship. Others have not got round to it, waking up late to the fact that they will soon have nowhere to vote at all.

Mr Macnab said he does not want to be a German citizen, despite having lived in Germany for 40 years, because he may choose to move back to the UK some day.

“I have been 70 years a Scot,” he said.

Andrew Nixey will have to give up his seat on the local council
Andrew Nixey will have to give up his seat on the local council (AP)

“I don't want to ruin the chance of going back to Britain and being covered by the National Health Service.”

The right for all EU nationals to vote and stand in municipal elections where they live, even if they are not citizens of that country, was enshrined in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty which established the EU.

However, rules in Europe are not uniform for non-EU citizens, which is what Britons will become after Friday night. Some countries allow non-EU citizens to vote in municipal elections. So even after Brexit, Britons should still have a voice at the local level in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and in two cities in Slovakia. In Finland, they will need to have been residents for two years, while the residency requirement is five years in the Netherlands.

Britain also has been negotiating directly with other EU nations to extend the ability of British expatriates to vote and run for office after Brexit. The UK Government said it has deals with Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg and is continuing talks with other administrations. It said British expatriates should also still be able to vote locally in Belgium, Estonia, Ireland, Lithuania, Malta and Slovenia. But they will no longer be able to vote or stand locally in France, which has tens of thousands of long-term British residents and many more part-time residents of holiday homes.

The French interior ministry said 757 Britons serve on municipal councils, more than any other expatriate group. They will keep their seats until municipal elections in March, but they will not be able to run or vote then if they have not gained French citizenship.

For Elaine Bastian, this has come as a blow. She has been proud to serve as an elected councillor since 2014 in the village of Blond, which has 700 residents and boasts a fortified medieval church.

She said: “I do feel robbed, almost, of my little crown, my hat of responsibility.

“It makes me angry more than anything. I really don't like other people being able to make my life choices. It was my life choice to be a councillor.”

Mr Nixey said his application for French citizenship is stuck somewhere in a Brexit-induced backlog. He is not optimistic that he will get it in time to stand again for re-election in Saint-Martial-sur-Isop.

Mr Nixey said that serving on the village council, dealing with the minutiae of local services like refuse collection and road repairs, helped integrate him and his wife, Margaret, into the rural community where they raised two children. He also feels it allowed him to play a bridge-building role between newly-arrived Britons and their French neighbours.

About one-third of the 140 residents of Saint-Martial and its immediate surroundings are British, many of whom were attracted by cheap housing and land. Mr Nixey worries that communication will suffer if he is not around to translate and help smooth out problems and misunderstandings.

Mr Nixey said: “It's one more wall being built to prevent the further integration of people.

“It is a real shame. I know the ropes. My French is good enough.”

Saint-Martial mayor Pierre Bachellerie said that excluding the British expatriates will be “a big loss” for his and other villages which have been revived by the arrival of British workers and retirees.

He said: “What really upsets me is that they repopulated our villages. We are lucky to have them.

“For me, it's an aberration that they can no longer vote.”

Press Association

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