UK election from Catalonia: 'For a while, I was not able to vote anywhere'

Conservative and Labour voters see Brexit as main issue for British citizens abroad

A poling station during the 2015 United Kingdom elections on May 7, 2015
A poling station during the 2015 United Kingdom elections on May 7, 2015 / © Mazur/ via Flickr
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

July 2, 2024 05:54 PM

July 2, 2024 06:02 PM

Under London-heavy rain, which many used as a metaphor for the end of his leadership of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a snap election for July 4 on May 22.

A few weeks later, British voters will be casting their ballots on Thursday, but some of them have to do so from abroad, via proxy vote or mail-in ballot.

"If polls are anything to go by, it is not looking good for the Conservative party," Michael Thompson, the representative of Conservatives Abroad in Catalonia, told Catalan News. Even though, he added, "the party is the most electorally successful party, and one of the most on the planet."

Thompson, from the Scottish Highlands, has been living in Catalonia for 24 years and currently resides in Molins de Rei, just outside Barcelona.


Polls suggest that the Labour party will win the UK election. But one of the most recent surprises is the Reform UK party, as the group "has come from nowhere," Darren Smith, a Labour voter told Catalan News. He has been based in Catalonia for the past 15 years and lives in Girona, a city north of the Catalan capital.

"Many people struggle to understand 'why Brexit?' - as when it is polled, people seem to have changed their mind and wish that they had not voted for Brexit. And yet, at the same time, the party that has come from nowhere is the party that was sort of the driver of Brexit," he added.

In the past, before the Covid-19 pandemic, he used to vote in person as his business interests were in the United Kingdom, but this time, Smith has voted by mail-in ballot.

"I cannot say the postal system from the UK to here works 100% of the time, but it seemed to with the mail-in ballot," he said when asked about the difficulties of the system.

"The instructions were easy to follow, but whether it actually arrives back in the UK, I will probably never know," he added.

Brexit and voting abroad

On January 1, 2021, Brexit officially came into force, meaning the UK was no longer a European Union member state. Since then, many issues have been raised for British citizens abroad, such as driving licenses and voting.

"I think Britons living abroad have felt the impact of Brexit more, but I think that would be the only difference they would be feeling from people living in the UK," Micheal Thompson, a Conservative voter, said to Catalan News.

One of the main topics during the last years in the UK has been Brexit, "as a lot of the politics have been dominated by Brexit, and what has been delivered compared to what was promised," Darren Smith, voting Labour, said.

Aside from Brexit, franchise change is one of the main changes in this election. According to the UK government, around 3.5 million citizens can benefit from the new eligibility to register as overseas voters. In the past, those citizens could only register for 15 years after leaving the UK, a norm that has now been abolished.

"All these people can now vote thanks to the Conservative party. Which is a massive enfranchisement for these people to continue being involved in their country's politics," Thompson said.

A Union Jack flag beside a European Union one in the EU Commission
A Union Jack flag beside a European Union one in the EU Commission / European Commission

Before the change, Micheal Thompson "was not able to vote anywhere for a while. While Britain was in the EU, I could not vote, and now that we have left, it is possible for me to ask for Spanish nationality, and I could vote in Spanish elections," he told this media outlet.

Smith highlighted that he cannot vote in Catalan or Spanish elections and that, "actually, since Brexit, I cannot vote in the European elections either, whereas previously I could," he said. 

However, he does feel "more qualified to vote in the UK elections" than in the Catalan elections "because I am not steeped in the culture and the history of this region, but it would be nice to have some sort of representation in some way, shape or form."