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Brits “cold shoulder” Algarve’s ‘Brexit?’ debate

Euro MPs who travelled from Strasbourg to listen to the citizens of the Algarve today were shocked to see how few Brits seem to care either way what happens in the historic ‘In/ Out referendum’ over EU membership – now only a little over a month away.

Despite the fact that the “Brexit?” debate was publicised with a good 10-days notice – involving various mentions in local media – only a handful of people turned up to the meeting in Faro this afternoon. The disappointment on the Euro politicians’ faces was obvious.

“I felt very embarrassed”, Portuguese José Faria said afterwards.

“I had the impression – perhaps because of the controversy relating to oil exploration – that the British community in the Algarve was very active, very united.
“When I walked into the room, well, I felt quite ashamed”.

Faria’s concerns were more for the efforts made by his colleague, fervent remain campaigner Catherine Bearder, who had hoped the occasion would serve to answer voters’ questions as canvassing enters the home-straight before polling stations open on June 23.

Instead she heard that almost everyone in the room was “disenfranchised” years ago – due to the “15-year rule” which removes voting rights from expat British nationals. This perhaps explained the minuscule turn-out, and even shorter list of questions.

Bearder nonetheless made her points, stressing that a vote to stay in the EU would be one for “prosperity, opportunity and security”, while a vote to leave would render Britain a “land of isolation with an uncertain future”.

Explaining the potential effects on trade, pensions, healthcare, property ownership – even residency – the Liberal Democrat stopped short of the warning sounded by British PM David Cameron recently that a vote to leave would trigger World War III, but it was clear the future would not be rosy.

It was left to Faria to emphasise the folly of Brexit, which he likened to the “last act of the Empire.

“It will not be a good situation”, he stressed.

But as Bearder had explained: “The EU will always be part of our future, whether we are joined with them or not” – thus her conviction in the sense of remaining within it, to try and “mould and plan a common European future that fits all of us”.

With Monday May 16 the very last day expats can register to vote, Bearder left the meeting to catch a plane, hoping that her message might filter through to the many thousands of potential voters within the Algarve’s expat community.

HOW TO REGISTER TO VOTE:

This “only takes a few minutes”. Any British national who has lived in Portugal for less than 15 years can access gov.uk/register-to-vote and apply to vote by post or by proxy.

“You need to make sure you have time to apply to vote by post, receive and then return your ballot papers by polling day”, explains the Euro MP. “If you don’t think you can return them in time, you may want to consider voting by proxy”.

VOTING BY PROXY:

This allows registered voters to appoint someone to vote on their behalf. A proxy form can be found on:
http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/register-to-vote/apply-to-vote-by-proxy

The deadline for applying to vote by proxy is normally 5pm, six working days before an election (June 15), but “to be safe” Bearder suggests applying “well before”.

Held in Faro Town Hall, the meeting was presided over by the town’s mayor Rogério Bacalhau who left the audience with what he called three messages. They effectively boiled down to the fact that Portugal reaps huge benefits from its connections to the British expat community, and that participation in any democratic process is vital.

As the late afternoon event concluded to a delicious buffet planned for many more people, José Faria confided: “The British think that if they leave the EU will fall apart, but it won’t”.

The truth is that no one can tell what will happen.

As our occasional contributor journalist Len Port explains in his latest blog (http://algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt/), “no country has ever left the EU before”. Britain would be entering uncharted territory, and taking along with it as many as two million Brits who live in several European countries and lost their right to say how they feel about this crucial issue many years ago.

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