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New project aims to dispel 'myths' about Brits abroad - and boost reform drive

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A major project has been launched which partly aims to “bust some of the myths” about Britons who live abroad, writes Martin Banks.

Another objective of the exercise is to garner support for the creation of overseas constituencies in the UK parliament.

It is argued that being able to vote for an MP in the British parliament, who represents a constituency outside the UK, would help support Britons who live and work in mainland Europe and beyond. As well as promote the UK abroad.

Organizers say that many still cling on to an outdated image of British nationals who reside abroad.

Else Kvist, head of communications for New Europeans UK, one of the two campaign groups behind the project, says they want to hear from British people who live abroad.

It is hoped the initiative will “help bust some of the common myths about retired Brits lounging about in the Mediterranean, soaking up the sun with a drink in their hand," she said.

"University research from one of our board members, Michaela Benson, shows that this is simply a skewed image. As part of the Brexit Brits Abroad project, which she leads, Professor Benson informs us that 79% of the British population living in the EU are of working age and below.

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"That's why we would like Brits abroad of all ages, ethnicity, backgrounds, and professions or trades to share their stories."

 It is hoped, she said, that their experiences “would make a strong case story in support of our campaign for overseas constituencies.”

 Anyone interested in taking part is asked to email her and she will send a list of questions to be considered.

 Typical questions might include:

•             How did you end up living where you are?

•             What do you love most about where you live and why?

•             Do you still have a close connection to the UK and if so how?

•             What challenges have you faced living abroad? - including before/after Brexit in you are based in the EU

•             What do you see as the benefit of having a dedicated MP representing Brits abroad like yourself?

•             In what way do you think the UK as a country could benefit from having overseas constituencies?

 As well as a short text, participants are also asked to send a photo (high resolution jpg is best) of themselves from where they are living.

The overall aim is to compile case stories of Brits abroad for the campaign for overseas constituencies, which is co-lead by the charity New Europeans UK and the organisation Unlock Democracy, which campaigns for more participatory democracy.

Else added: “It could be someone who finds themselves in a difficult situation in terms of their citizens’ rights or issues affecting Brits abroad.

“Or it could be, but not necessarily, someone whose job helps promote the UK abroad. In both cases of course, it needs to be someone who feels representation and overseas constituencies would be important.”

She added: “It is a part myth-busting exercise but also a very serious attempt to help build a case for overseas constituencies in the UK parliament.”

Organizers are currently compiling some of the responses they have so far garnered. They include comments from Clarissa Kilwick (pictured, below) from the campaign group Brexpats - Hear Our Voice.

She has lived in Italy with her partner and son for the last 23 years. Clarissa saw a window of opportunity, with freedom of movement,  after being made redundant from a corporate job in London and retrained as an English teacher in Italy.

When asked if she still has a close connection to the UK, and if so how, Clarissa replied: “Thanks to Brexit, I feel like the UK cut its ties with me but I cannot do likewise even if I wished to.

“I have family and friends in the UK, and those links are very important to our son too. My state pension will come from the UK. Through my work I have brought business to the UK and I am a consumer of the UK.”

When asked about any challenges she had faced living abroad before and after Brexit, Clarissa added: “It was a bombshell which caused a lot of anxiety and removed our sense of security.

“I volunteer in Italy to help other Brits with the bureaucratic quagmire we are left in. We are pretty much on our own now but the problems continue. The other side of the coin is how Italians are affected. For example, I used to help students prepare for studying or working in the UK but now I am asked to do Brexit workshops in schools, discussing all the obstacles they face. Almost every school I have worked in had study trips to the UK but now hardly any which is sad.”

On how the UK as a country could benefit from having overseas constituencies, Clarissa said, “I believe Brits abroad should be considered as assets not just liabilities.

“We have a contribution to make in promoting the UK through our work and in our communities. The English language is one the UK's greatest exports and is really big business. However, I'm concerned that the pool of mother tongue teachers and examiners in Italy is just going to dry up.”

New Europeans UK, based in London, is the charity arm of New Europeans International, which this year is celebrating its 10 Birthday. The organisation seeks to represent the interests of EU citizens who live and work in the UK, as well as Brits living abroad. New Europeans UK will soon launch an appeal to help continue its citizens' rights work, including its campaign for overseas constituencies.

* Anyone interested in taking part can contact Else at: [email protected]

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