the Labour Party has made it clear that it wants to see a greater level of freedom of movement within the EU for Britons, | UK PARLIAMENT/MARIA UNGER HANDOU


The general election is looming in the United Kingdom - it must be held no later than January 28, 2025 - and Britons living overseas will be able to vote after the 15-year cap was finally lifted last month.

Furthermore, the right to vote does not just apply to Britons abroad who had voted previously while resident in the UK. Britons who moved abroad when they were too young to vote can register to vote as well and the Labour Party, through Labour International, is busy spreading the word that it is important to use that democratic right to vote and to register now.

Fiona Urquhart, the Chair of Labour International who has lived and worked in Luxembourg for over 30 years, told the Bulletin this week that in the wake of Brexit, millions of people, especially Britons living and working abroad in the EU, realised that they now have a role in influencing and having a say on very crucial decisions which affect their daily lives.

She highly recommends that all Britons living abroad use their democratic right to vote, even though it may not be for the Labour Party.

“Even when we have been away from the country for many years, Labour International members and all other overseas citizens maintain personal, financial, and emotional ties to the UK.
We are directly affected by many elements of government policy, despite our distance, and most of us have friends and family who are having to deal with the impact of the disastrous Conservative attempt at government.

“Potential overseas voters care deeply about the UK, and it is only right that they have their say in its future,” she said.
Since the UK withdrew from the European Union, tens of thousands of Britons have been faced with numerous challenges and hurdles, which no one was fully aware were coming or that were brushed under the carpet.

In Spain, Britons have been faced with the nightmare complications over exchanging driving licences, for example, having to get new TIE identity cards and now the burning issue is the 90-day rule, which has had a negative impact on Britons across the EU. Fiona also pointed out that Britons in Canada, for example, have been crippled by the pension freeze - in short their pensions are set at the rate they were when they emigrated and are not entitled to UK pension increases.
So, the issues facing Britons living abroad, many of whom are overseas for professional reasons, are numerous and Fiona said that the Labour Party is well aware of the situation.

Winning is not a given
However, until it gets into power - and Fiona was quick to stress that winning the next general election is not a given hence why every vote counts, especially those from overseas - Labour will not be in a position to begin to redress the problems.

“With regard to the 90-day rule, we’ve just seen what happened in France. The proposed easing of the cap failed at the very last hurdle and we know that Spain is also pushing for change. It’s in everybody’s interest but it’s a question of getting the quid pro quo right and convincing 27 countries to agree on a decree which would only affect the British. That will take some doing after the sour taste Brexit has left.

“But the Labour Party has made it clear that it wants to see a greater level of freedom of movement within the EU for Britons, in particular for professionals and trade, and within that remit could or would come the 90-day rule. It would have to be part of a bigger deal,” she explained.

“Yes, it’s ironic that Labour, Labour International, is keen to stress the impotence of Britons abroad voting again after it was Tony Blair who introduced the 15-year cap, but I think, as do many of the members, that Brexit moved the goal posts, totally changed the political environment.

“By using the right to vote and voting for Labour, the UK will finally have a stable government, after 14 years of upheaval and chaos, which cares about the interests of Britons wherever they may live in the world.

Britons living abroad are no longer the expats of old. Many more are professionals or academics who have moved abroad to work and set up businesses but, in the EU, they face recruitment problems when it comes to employing seasonal staff from the UK as well as the complicated important export procedures and paperwork and extra VAT costs.

“I think what the majority of people have realised, including those who voted in favour of Brexit and I know Britons living in the EU who did, is that Brexit was neither thought through properly nor clearly presented to the electorate. Many of us at home and overseas are now paying the price.

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No longer have MEPs
“So, it is extremely important that people use their democratic right to vote again in the general elections.
“While the UK does not have MPs representing Britons abroad like France or Italy, as a result of Brexit Britons no longer have an MEP to refer to when they have problems. Yes, there is the Foreign Office but it is more concerned about trade than it is with the worries and problems individual Britons face,” she added.

Having the status of a Constituency Labour Party (CLP), means Labour International is entitled to send delegates to Annual Conference, is represented on the National Policy Forum, can nominate for national committees and make supporting nominations in leadership elections.

And it is assisted by an NEC Liaison Officer, who is appointed from current members of the NEC.
The structure and function of Labour International are governed both by the Labour Party Rulebook and by Labour International Rules, and Fiona is hopeful that these criteria will mean that MPs for Britons overseas could eventually become a reality under a Labour government.

“At the end of the day, Labour wants to make it easier for Britons living overseas. Right now the party is obviously being cautious, it’s not making too many bold announcements because, should it come to power, it does not know what it’s going to be faced with, what state the economy will be in and so forth. But I can’t stress enough that it is well aware of many of the problems facing Britons overseas, especially in the EU.

“One has to remember that the 15-year voting cap was lifted as a result of the ‘Votes for Life’ campaign launched by the late veteran Labour International member who lived in Italy, Harry Shindler with, granted, support from the Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale. So that is further evidence of issues facing Britons abroad, how strong they feel about their rights and how more often that not it’s far better to work together than create divisions. As the late Jo Cox said in her maiden speech ‘we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us’, Fiona stressed.
“There are at least 2.4 million Britons living and working abroad and they should not be marginalised.

Appetite to vote
“Whether there is an appetite amongst the overseas community to vote, it’s difficult to say. But I am convinced that Brexit has woken people up and that now we have the power to vote, we can all do our bit to try and make a change and for the better.

I know of many Britons who have become disenchanted with politics and politicians over the past few years, but now is the change to reengage. Many more people are aware that politics affects our daily lives, the lives of our families and friends in the UK, our children and their future. And this is why, should Labour win the next election, it is prepared to revisit some of the Brexit agreements, such as the Windsor Agreement and make it easier for Britons to come and go in Europe.

Restoring that freedom of movement is paramount and a meeting to discuss the Trade and Cooperation agreement has already been agreed on for 2026. Following that, a yearly revision is being pushed for by all parties involved, both the EU and the UK.

Closer working relations
“Closer working relations have to be struck for the better of everyone affected and the only party which has made it clear it is prepared to go down that route is Labour. The party is open to resolve, while not talking about reversing Brexit - it’s too late for that and, to be honest, it would never happen.

“But key issues can and will be worked on. Solving the 90-day problem works both ways, it’s good for the UK and it’s beneficial for Spain and France, for example, not to mention the rest of the EU.
“I’m not just talking about professionals or the wealthy, I’m talking about ordinary people. Those are the people Labour cares most about, the working people who have the courage to get up and go, move overseas to work or live. And why shouldn’t they?

“But trying to convince the EU to follow one-way traffic solely in favour of Britons is not going to be easy, it’s not going to happen overnight. However, as part of a larger deal, it’s not impossible if the willingness is there,” she said.

“For example, the EU Observer’s view of what Labour could or should do, rather than official Labour policy is if Labour is serious about reviving growth, looking for practical ways to reduce trading barriers with a market that accounts for nearly half of all of Britain’s trade will not be a choice but a necessity for the future government. In its defence, Labour has proposed some ideas to that end.

“This includes a new veterinary agreement to reduce friction in trading agrifoods, better mobility provisions to ease movement of working professionals travelling to and from EU countries, and a set of measures like a regular EU-UK political summit that could improve trust in bilateral relations,” Fiona explained.

“Exploring, moving abroad, travelling, it’s a great British strength, it’s something we’ve always done.
“We’ve integrated with overseas communities, become key parts of society, made huge contributions, helped expand cultures, grow businesses and create employment and prosperity.
“Travel broadens the mind, enables us to exchange knowledge and experiences, it’s for the good of all, so hopefully we will see Labour return to power and set about resolving the freedom of movement problems.

“But for that to happen, those who are entitled to vote, in the UK or overseas, should do so and preferably Labour for a stable future,” she added.
“What is more, Keir Starmer knows what it is like to do a propert day’s work as a barrister.”
For more information on Labour International and registering to vote from overseas go to: