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OPINION OPINIÓN i

Why Britons in Spain need to fight for another Brexit referendum

A fairer vote is needed to ensure British citizens can continue to enjoy the benefits of living in such a beautiful, culturally rich country

People protest against Brexit in London.
People protest against Brexit in London. AFP

There is an unfortunate but prevalent stereotype that British migrants in Spain are all pensioners who laze around, sunning it on the coast.

They lie on their loungers, maybe occasionally skipping off for a round of golf or a game of bridge with their retired friends, all the while refusing to learn the language or mingle with locals. If they want to make a concession to Spanish culture, they might swap gin and tonics for a jug of sangria every now and then.

European leaders need to know that not only can we secure a new referendum, we can win it

Not only is that image unfortunate, it is untrue. Around three-quarters of British migrants in Spain are members of younger, working families who are taking advantage of the opportunities the European Union offers them.

The pattern is similar across the EU27 – 80% of Brits in these countries are young people who are greatly appreciative of how they have been welcomed with open arms.

That’s why the ALDE Party Congress of liberal party leaders in Madrid today is so important. We must impress upon these European leaders, who include seven prime ministers, that not all British people are ideologically blinded Brexiters who hate Europe.

Around 1.3 million of us love the continent so much that they have even chosen to live in the EU, the most popular destination being Spain with 310,000 Brits.

Indeed, only a small percentage of those who even voted to leave in 2016 are anything close to being Europhobic – the type of people who wants a Brexit at any cost to the UK. It’s just a shame so many of them occupy the Conservative green benches, constantly pushing Theresa May into a position that will see us isolated from our European friends and neighbours.

But the tide in the UK is very much turning against Brexit. Poll after poll shows that people are dismayed by the way the British government has mishandled Brexit – a divided team of one that is being out-negotiated by a united bloc of 27.

Protester at London march against Brexit.
Protester at London march against Brexit. AP

In the aftermath of the 2016 referendum, the idea that the British public should be given the final say on Brexit, with the option to stay in the EU, was not popular.

People had Brexit fatigue, they thought it was inevitable and just wanted secession to be rubber-stamped quickly. But Brexit dragged on and it became clear that there was to be no easy, clean break.

Today, the momentum is behind what has become known as the “People’s Vote.” Last month, around 700,000 marched on London to demand this vote is held in the coming months to avert possible recession and long-term economic damage. It was the biggest political march since the Iraq War and its significance must not be underplayed in the UK or ignored in the EU.

European leaders need to know that not only is there more than a fighting chance that we can secure this vote, but also that we can win it.

Part of that will involve holding a much fairer referendum, in which, for example, 16 and 17-year-olds will be allowed to vote. This is vital, given they will have to live with the folly of Brexit far longer than any of the politicians who are trying to impose it on them. Moreover, young people overwhelmingly want to stay in the EU, enthused and energised as they are by a pan-national bloc that allows them freedom to travel, enjoy different cultures, scenery, food, drink, and adventures.

Another major demand will be for the UK to scrap the rule that prevented British migrants who have lived abroad for longer than 15 years from voting in the 2016 referendum. Many members of Bremain in Spain, for example, are understandably furious that they were effectively excluded over an issue that will have a huge impact on their futures.

The only way to protect British citizens’ rights and freedoms is to stop Brexit

The political rhetoric of the British negotiators implies that UK citizens’ rights in the EU, and vice versa, are resolved. That is wrong.

Put broadly, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and signed off. Until then, citizens are still pawns and their rights far from guaranteed.

More specifically, there are still important outstanding issues even at this very late stage – notably on freedom of movement which is crucial to British workers who cross European borders for work.

Whatever the deal, it simply will not be as beneficial to Britain as the one we already have. The only way to protect citizens’ rights and ensure the freedoms enjoyed across the EU remain, is to stop Brexit.

This chaotic journey started with a democratic vote in 2016. It must end with a democratic process so that all British families in Spain, both young and old, can continue to enjoy the benefits and opportunities of living in such a beautiful, culturally rich country.

Vince Cable is leader of the Liberal Democrats and Sue Wilson is Chair of Bremain in Spain.

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