"We are focusing on the case for an 'in' vote, not speculating on Brexit"
In Malaga this week mainly to support trade between the UK and Spain, British Ambassador Simon Manley found that his visit coincided with a surge of interest in the upcoming EU referendum in the UK, and concern about what a possible ‘Out’ vote would mean for British residents in Spain. At an informal meeting with the English language media, originally convened to give details of a voting awareness campaign, concerns about a potential ‘Brexit’ were foremost in questions put to the ambassador. First, though, he urged everyone who is eligible to do so to register to vote.
The message from the UK’s maximum representative in Spain is that the government has reacted to the problems encountered by overseas voters in the last general elections, and has done everything possible to make it easy to register to vote. A massive campaign has been initiated online and in social media, and registration, he said, is “easy”. So far, only a very small proportion of those who are eligible (in Spain, about 11,000 out of more than a quarter of a million on the Spanish ‘padrón’) are registered to vote in the UK.
It takes less than five minutes to register, said the ambassador, and voters can choose to cast their vote by post, by proxy, or in person in the relevant constituency in the UK on polling day. However, in order to get the ballot papers in on time, he strongly recommended registering at least five weeks in advance, which for the referendum means before mid May. Asked whether there was any chance that the ‘Votes for Life’ bill would be passed in time for those who have been away from the UK for more than 15 years to be able to take part in the referendum, he said, regretfully, that he thought not, as the bill requires separate parliamentary legislation and it is unlikely that time can be found for it before the vote in June.
Effect in Spain
Addressing the specific concerns of British residents in Spain, the ambassador agreed that there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the possibility of ‘Brexit’, but said the British government’s focus now is on ensuring a victory for the “remain” campaign. With immediate effect, a series of white papers will be published detailing the nature of the deal struck by the British premier David Cameron, and the focus has changed from the negotiations with the EU to making sure the results are properly understood. The nature of the process for leaving will also be discussed, but the Prime Minister, said Mr Manley, has made it clear that Britain will be “stronger, safer, and more prosperous within the reformed European Union”.
Asked again about the effect of an ‘out’ vote on residents in Spain, the ambassador insisted that “we are not preparing ourselves for the failure of that effort”(to ensure in ‘in’ vote) “and in any case the nature of the relationship after a ‘no’ vote would depend on negotiations with our partners”. Neither would he speculate on the effect of an ‘out’ vote on the many thousands of Spaniards living in the UK, repeating that the focus is now on making the case for remaining in the EU.
With hints in the British media that Spain might be resentful of the conditions obtained by David Cameron, Mr Manley was adamant that both the caretaker government under Rajoy and the opposition leaders had expressed to him their wish for the UK to remain in the EU. Spain’s attitude to Europe, he said, is very different from the UK’s, in that “they see their future with much greater integration into Europe, and there are many Spanish politicians who say they would like to see a United States of Europe, a genuinely federal Europe. It is a very different vision from that of the vast majority of the British political class and the majority of British voters. We have very different visions of our destiny in Europe, but actually we work extremely well together”. Spain, he added, is one of the UK’s very closest partners in Europe and shares a commitment to more competitiveness in Europe, and a greater role for national governments, among other issues.
Mr Manley could not be drawn to speculate on the future of residents in Spain in the event of an ‘out’ vote, but he was clear on one thing: in or out, it is in the best interests of both countries to continue to work together.source surinenglish