The British Ambassador to Portugal, Kirsty Hayes, was interviewed on the Algarve’s KissFM as part of her mission to encourage expat Britons to register in the UK to be able to vote.
Registration is especially important with the United Kingdom referendum coming up as the electorate is being asked to decide whether the UK stays in the European Union or not.
In a 20 minute slot on the KissFM morning radio show on February 2nd, the ambassador said that the key reason for her visit was to explain that the voter registration process was simple, the essential information needed is available online and with a referendum coming up, it is important that overseas voters are able to contribute to the decision making process.
Some expats are not entitled to vote for a UK Member of Parliament or in a referendum as they have been overseas for 15 years of more, a rule that is being addressed by the government but which is highly unlikely to be altered before the referendum, even though the date for the in/out referendum has yet to be fixed by David Cameron.
Following the radio interview, the ambassador hosted an informal information-giving session at the Hotel Alísios in Albufeira followed by a working lunch organised by the Algarve’s Vice-Consul Clive Jewell, with guests drawn from the Algarve’s business and media community.
The first message was ‘please register to vote.’ The number of registered overseas voters is around 100,000 worldwide so the figure for Portugal, although unknown, will be tiny.
There are around 40,000 expatriate Britons living in Portugal and the majority of these have been here for less than the 15 year cut-off date and so are entitled to register to vote at the last constituency in which they lived.
Children who were under the voting age of 18 when they moved overseas can register at 16, or 14 in Scotland, to be included on the electoral register in the constituency at which their parents, or parent, was last registered at.
The referendum will ask British voters this question: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?"
The government’s stance will be summarised when the referendum is called, as will the opposition’s and other party views however there are an estimated 2.2 million UK nationals currently living in Europe, who face uncertainty over reciprocal rights to healthcare, pensions and other benefits if the UK decides to leave the EU.
George Cunningham, Chairman of the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats, and Leader of the 'Brits Abroad; Yes to Europe' campaign has said, “With the forthcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, it’s important that as many expats as possible register their vote. Their rights, and those of their families to live, work and retire freely within the European Union are at risk.”
Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder said: “With the polls neck and neck, British expats may well tip the balance in the EU referendum. But they must register now if they want their voice to be heard and their vote to count.”
As for the date, Cameron has promised the UK electorate that the referendum will be in 2017 at the latest so the ambassador was keen that qualifying Britons register in preparation for this vital referendum "which could be as early as June this year."
With the referendum on the UK’s future looming, eligible overseas voters perhaps have never had such an important opportunity to influence the United Kingdom’s future, along with their own.
Use this link to register to vote: