I read recently that the British diaspora is one of the largest in the world. Few people would imagine that with the exception of India, few countries have so many of their nationals resident overseas as does the United Kingdom. I was born and educated in the UK and both my parents were and are British citizens. In the case of my Father, he is about as British as they come, of both English and Scottish ascendency.
I have always therefore considered myself to be British, and of course, European. That is what it says on my passport (European Union: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). I live in Spain where I have been resident for the last six and a half years. Of course, my status is as a European Union resident and on my identity card it clearly states that as well as European, I am a British citizen.
So far so good. However, it has come to my awareness in recent days (through authoritative sources although the details have so far not been verified) that the status of British citizen is not quite as black and white as it would at first appear. I had never questioned this issue. Spanish citizens are citizens from birth to death, regardless of their place of abode, with full voting rights, and under new legislation, the right to healthcare subsidised by the Spanish state.
I did not vote in the last UK elections. In the previous general elections in 2001 I applied for a proxy vote based on the last address at which I was aware of having been registered to vote. For reasons I have not had time to analyse, my request was not processed and my brother was never sent the forms to vote on my behalf. In 2005, based on the previous mix up, I was unsure how to fill in the form, with which address, and which box to tick.
It is so easy for a Spanish citizen. You have a national ID card with a number on it, and that is enough to be able to vote. The British do not seem to have the same privilege.
It now seems there is no point protesting. I have been out of the UK for over 5 years, and so I have been told, current legislation does not permit me to vote any longer in UK elections as a non resident. Nor can I vote in Spanish national or regional elections. I need to prove that I have been resident here for at least 10 years and apply for Spanish citizenship (officially, dual nationality is not an option between Spain and the UK).
The latest scare has arisen as a result of the decision of the Blair government to establish a system of national ID cards. Unlike Spanish ID cards, they will not be issued as proof of citizenship, but as proof of residence. When a citizen applies for a UK passport from 2009 onwards, they will be obliged to apply for an ID card at the same time. But what if they are not a resident?
On enquiring through my contact at the Home Office, it now appears that this is a grey area. It would appear that the British government is not very keen on the idea of expats returning to the UK. It is already a crowded isle and they appear to adopted the philosophy that if you leave, you had better not return.
I have not verified whether this is definitely the case, however if so, it goes further than the Cuban government, to take one example, has ever dreamed. Fidel Castro has always made life difficult for his citizens to leave the country however once out, they are welcomed back with open arms to spend the dollars they now earn in the US and elsewhere, and thus provide the economy with a much needed source of income. I am therefore surprised to hear noises that the British government is apparently so happy for born and bred British citizens to get out, and stay out.
I apologise to my readers that this article has not been fully researched and may contain factual innacuracies. One of the purposes of this post is to invite people to clarify some of the points raised since I can not yet see how else I can get to the bottom of this. In 1997 I campaigned for a Blair victory. The sounds and noises eminating from the UK in the field of immigration neither sound liberal, nor internationalist, nor socialist. There is something dark and haunting about the whole business, and I am beginning to wonder whether a Cameron government would show greater solidarity to her majesty's subjects. I would be grateful for any further clarity from contributors to this blog.