British Foreign Office minister speaks on EU referendum concerns

FOR some time, the readers of the Euro Weekly News have been seeking answers to some questions, namely: What will happen if the UK decides to leave the European Union after the referendum, and where will it leave us expatriates?
During an interview in Benalmadena, we put those questions to the Foreign Office, and Minister of State for International Development, the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, while on his visit to Malaga on Wednesday and Thursday (July 29/30).
The tri-fold purpose of his trip to the Costa del Sol was firstly to present the local tourist police with a Certificate of Excellence.
Secondly, Mr Shapps paid a visit to the British Consulate in Malaga and the Global Contact Centre for expatriates, which, under the adept wing of the British Consul Charmaine Arbouin, handle many thousands of assistance requests per year from British nationals around the world.
And finally the minister was on the Costa del Sol to launch the official Helping British Nationals Abroad report for 2014/15, a report that echoed the fact that some 470,000 enquiries were dealt with by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and consulate staff last year.
His message to tourists was clear; the Know Before You Go campaign is designed to inform tourists and expats alike, that “prevention is better than cure.” He said: “It’s far less costly in time, money and worry to ensure the safety of valuables and documents such as passports, than to have to go through the inconvenience, and personal suffering of replacing them once lost or stolen.”
He continued: “We have already begun a campaign with some car hire companies here in Spain to heighten tourists’ awareness of robberies from vehicles while on holiday, and we hope word will spread using the power of the press also.”
With millions of British expatriates living in Europe – the majority of them in Spain – many with businesses, property and family to consider, there are major concerns over the repercussions of a vote to withdraw from the EU.
Mr Shapps feels those are consequences we are not going to face: “My personal opinion is that the British people will vote to stay in the EU. Not the EU as it is now, however, but a remodelled EU, an organisation more like the old Common Market that we signed up to originally after the previous referendum in 1975.”
There’s no precedent or procedure yet in place in should voters choose the withdrawal option, but Mr Shapps assures expats that the FCO has started making sure information will be accessible: “Apart from the information services online, I am here today!”
He continued: “I wish to impress on the expat community in Spain how important it is to register to vote. We are going to scrap the 15-year limit on voting, we promised that in our manifesto, but people living in Spain will need to register with their last UK local council to be able to have a voice in the referendum. It’s very important.”

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