On 23 June 2016 the United Kingdom will hold a referendum about whether it should remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union. A potential ‘Brexit’ has been discussed for the last couple of years and Eurosceptics have campaigned more and more aggressively against EU citizens living and working in the UK and made them one of the main reasons why the UK should end its membership of the European Union.
Some basics on the EU referendum have been assembled by the BBC, although many media outlets so far have not adequately helped to raise the quality of the debate about this important issue.
Letmevote as a grassroots initiative has argued for years that in our opinion people should have the right to vote in the communities they live in. Especially EU citizens, who should be equal to each other across the EU, should have democratic voting rights wherever they live in the EU, whether in their home nation or another EU country.
Despite 2+m EU citizens living in the UK and 1.5 British EU citizens living elsewhere in the EU, the UK government has failed to show a democratically forward-looking attitude on this. On 23 June non-British EU citizens living and working in the UK will not have the right to vote and participate in the UK EU Referendum. This is especially frustrating since EU citizens in Scotland did have voting rights in the Scottish Independence Referendum 2014 – unfortunately the UK government did not show a similar enlightened attitude as the Scottish government as to the rights of their residents to determine their own fate.
Another democratically frustrating fact is that UK citizens who live abroad for more than 15 years lose their right to vote in any UK elections, leaving many democratically disenfranchised. In another frustrating move, and despite an earlier promise to the contrary from key actors, the UK government has also decided not give these British citizens a vote in the EU referendum – many of which are directly affected by the outcome as they live on the European continent.
Some EU citizen groups have campaigned against the disenfranchisement of EU citizens living in the UK, focusing on two petitions. The ‘Give EU citizens living & working in the UK the right to vote in EU Referendum‘ Petition got just under 40,000 signatures when it closed on 25 March 2016. A 38 degrees petition on the subject has under 4000 signatures as of March 2016.
Letmevote has not actively campaigned for these petitions because it has been clear since 2015 that the UK government held a firm opinion against EU citizens’ participation in any referendum, and would not be swayed. However, we strongly believe that just because EU citizens have no vote in the EU referendum, it does not mean they have no voice.
We strongly encourage EU citizens living in the UK to campaign for the EU referendum in their local communities, schools, workplaces and online. EU citizens have stories to tell, we play an important part in helping other local people, British citizens and other with voting rights (such as Irish and Commonwealth citizens living in the UK) a good understanding what the EU means, how it cooperates and why EU membership adds to the quality of life in the UK.
Some organisations who campaign on the EU referendum, especially if spending campaign capital on their work, may need to register with the Electoral Commission as campaigners. However, nothing keeps individual EU citizens and activists from playing an active role in their community or from supporting pro-EU campaigns who work for a ‘REMAIN’ decision.
Letmevote will continue to share relevant information on twitter (you don’t need to be a twitter user to see our updates here!), and also work with another organisation to highlight campaign materials and information you may find useful if you want to campaign for the UK’s continued membership in the European Union.