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Opinion: Brexit is a question of identity – but more democracy can't be a bad thing

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Opinion: Brexit is a question of identity – but more democracy can't be a bad thing
Let's give all Brits abroad the right to vote, writes Julian Stubbs. Photo: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
16:09 CEST+02:00
Everyone impacted by Brexit should get the right to vote, no matter how long you've lived outside of the UK, writes British Remain campaigner Julian Stubbs.

Stockholmers tend to like me. Danes can't stand me. I'm the man who came up with the line 'Stockholm The Capital of Scandinavia'.

When I created it a number of years ago, I did so knowing full well that some people would love it, others would hate it. But that was fine; the most important thing was that people reacted to it, took notice and examined the facts – which were on our side.

I work with branding, and especially with cities and places, and I know that the question of identity is often a critical one. When it comes to Brexit, identity is central to the debate. Are Brits really Europeans or not?

Many of my Swedish friends ask me what Brexit is all about. It's a complex, multi-faceted issue and certainly an emotional one. But at its heart Brexit is very much a question of identity. A question Britain has struggled with since joining the European Community over 40 years ago.

I haven't lived in Britain for a number of years, but I'm there every other week for work and Britain still struggles with seeing itself as European. The typical Daily Mail-reading Brexiteer sees themselves as British and feels that identity superior to any European one.

Although I'm British, I've also always seen myself as a European. I'm a natural remainer. However, I accepted we lost the Brexit vote and had come to terms with going along with the will of the people and an orderly exit from the EU.

That's not what's happened. There was no cunning plan. Just month after month of bickering and wasted time and money on a Brexit debate sliding out of control and into the total merde we now have. The Brexiteers should have been honest. It was never going to be that easy.

We're at a total impasse and I've now come to the conclusion the best way forward is to put it back to the people. Another referendum, one that can have far greater clarity as to the real consequences.

Voting rights for Brits abroad

One group that has been hugely impacted by Brexit is the nearly five million British citizens living outside of the UK. Many of these are readers of The Local.

The current legislation is that if you have lived outside of the United Kingdom for more than 15 years, you can no longer vote in UK elections.

This is in contrast to the vast majority of other western democracies where citizens get a vote for life. Countries who support this approach include Austria, Canada, France, Germany (with some specific criteria), New Zealand, Spain, Sweden (again with specific criteria), and the United States of America. Even Costa Rica allows citizens a vote for life.

Shouldn't that apply to Brits?

Brexit news junkie

Like many of my British friends, I've become a news junkie. Totally hooked on the 24/7 Brexit news cycle.

Part of the appeal is the incredible array of pantomime goody and baddie politicians we now have in the UK. Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Jeremy (Jezza the Red) Corbyn, and the Darth Vader of politics herself, the MayBot – Theresa May. Even the speaker of the house, John Bercow, is like a Gilbert and Sullivan character, as he eloquently admonishes members of the house for their manners, tardiness or getting overly excited. It's pure soap opera – except it's for real.

My typical news cycle begins before breakfast each day listening to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, then switching to LBC and James O'Brien, interspersed with news and podcasts throughout the day.

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Totally, utterly hooked. But it just became a whole lot worse. I've now started mainlining politics. I've discovered Parliament Live TV. Hours upon hours of TV coverage each day of the House of Commons debating every trivial detail. It's the equivalent of watching vanilla paint dry.

But it was there on Friday last week that I stumbled across The Overseas Electors Bill.

The Overseas Electors Bill

A bill has been slowly making its way through the House of Commons since July 2017. It's called The Overseas Electors Bill. It will give votes back to British citizens living outside of the UK. It's widely supported and the UK government is keen to make the changes necessary to help get the proposal into legislation. If anyone has been dragging their heels it's been the British Labour party. If passed, this bill would enfranchise around 60 percent of the five million British citizens living outside of the UK.

I think we should encourage the passage of this legislation through the UK parliament to see it brought into legislation. We should show our support of the politicians pushing it through the house, so I have just launched an online petition in support of The Overseas Electors Bill. You can sign it here.

What next?

Many of my Swedish friends ask me what's going to happen next. Well, I certainly don't know, and I'm pretty sure that goes for the British Prime Minister and the government as well. Anything could now happen.

But I do know that more democracy cannot be a bad thing. So let's push for a vote on it that is inclusive of all Brits, wherever they live.

Julian Stubbs is a British writer who has dealt with branding issues, especially when it comes to places. He lives and works in Stockholm and has created a Facebook group for British people living in Sweden who are concerned with the impact of Brexit and has been interviewed for Swedish radio on the subject.

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