Britain’s upcoming referendum on whether to remain in the EU will have a huge effect on the two 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 2,710 people across Europe to find out what these expats were thinking.
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. Just under a quarter of our respondents fit those 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.
British expat Robert Mizen, who is based in Älvkarleby near Gävle in northern Sweden, told The Local on Friday that he would “most definitely” be voting in the June referendum.
“The world is globalizing and the only way forward is to unite and cooperate more. I have travelled around Europe a bit, met people from all over the world and when it's boiled down to it, it's all about people and the lives of those people,” he said.
As to those 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.
“The main [worry] is that we are being asked to decide between sticking with what we know, or leaving, even though no one can say at this point under which circumstances we would exit the union,” Stockholm-based Brit Delina Östbom told The Local last month, saying she was leaning towards voting to leave.
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.
The British and EU flags. Photo: AP Photo/Virginia Mayo
So how are expats planning to vote? Our survey revealed that, with more than 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’.
James McGrory, Chief Campaign Spokesman of Britain Stronger In Europe, said: “This survey shows the overwhelming consensus among Brits living abroad for remaining in Europe. 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. The Leave campaign's plan for Britain – to pull the UK economy out of the single market altogether – could see every British expat’s automatic right to live abroad thrown into doubt.”
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.
A spokesperson for the Better Off Out campaign, who did not wish to be named, said that their group had not had any contact with British expats.
“I can't make a judgment on how expats would be affected by the referendum result – individuals can make their own minds up. We are concentrating on making a positive case to all voters and hope that those who wish to vote will recognize the benefits for the UK,” said the spokesperson.
Some 58 percent of voters 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.
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.