Brexit or Bremain? | Brits in Macau want to stay in EU, though many cannot vote

European Union Flags And Union Flags Flying Together As ÔBrexitÕ Vote Date May Be Decided This Week

The lingering question of whether the United Kingdom will remain in the European Union will be at least partially decided by the referendum to be conducted on June 23, although the immediate outcome of the vote – however it unfolds – is likely to cause a ripple effect across much of Europe in the near future.
The issues at stake in the campaign are much the same as those that have troubled Britain for decades, as the island-nation has reluctantly edged toward the “ever closer union,” all the while negotiating extraordinary exemptions and special treatment from Brussels.
Among the burning issues are the questions of economy, immigration, security, and national sovereignty or lawmaking ability; the latter of which is, according to former London mayor Boris Johnson, “being very greatly eroded” by the EU.
The pre-referendum polls show that public opinion in Britain is on a knife-edge, with the electorate split equally between the “Brexit” campaign and the “Bremain” campaign. According to Telegraph polls held weekly between March 15 and June 6, only between 3 and 5 percent of voters remain undecided.
However, the opinion of British residents living overseas appears to be entirely unreflective of that in the home islands, even though the arguments raised are almost identical.
In Macau, all of the respondents contacted by the Times and willing to speak on-the-­record indicated a strong preference for staying within the union. None of the respondents said that they would advocate a Brexit, although many stated that they did not wish to comment on the matter.
Eileen Stow, a founding member of the British Business Association of Macao (BBAM), is not able to vote in this month’s referendum due to a ruling that excludes British citizens who have lived abroad for 15 years or more from participating in the vote.
“I voted for entry into the EU [back in the 1975 referendum] in what was the first election in which I was eligible to participate. And I would vote to stay in today if I was allowed to vote,” Stow told the Times, adding that she would appreciate the opportunity to vote in general elections and referendums while living in Macau.
“My feeling is that if the British in Macau care about the EU [referendum] then they will probably be voting to stay. When you’re an expat you have a stronger sense of internationalism and sticking together,” she explained.
Professor Glenn Timmermans of the University of Macau, who identifies as half-British, half-Dutch, says that he is also unequivocally voting to remain.
“I am definitely voting to remain. The EU is hardly a perfect system but I generally think that the UK is in every sense – economically, socially, culturally – better off as part of Europe,” said Timmermans, who, having lived outside the UK for just 14 years, will be able to vote on June 23.
The sentiments are echoed, though less strongly, by Suzanne Watkinson, who says she wants Britain to remain, though she too cannot vote in the referendum.
“I wish to vote [in the referendum] but I cannot since I have been out of the country for 15 years,” she said. “I have discussed the issue with my parents, who are both UK residents, and we all agree on the side of ‘Bremain,’ though some of us reluctantly.”
“We also think that the others [British] in Macau will vote to stay because we’re expats and we want to retain the benefits of being within the union,” added Watkinson.
Asked whether British residents in Macau might feel any effects of a withdrawal, Eileen Stow reckoned that, from a business perspective, “there will not be much of an effect.”
“Our chambers are interlinked, but we would still be considered a part of them [if Britain exited], I think,” she added.
Timmermans largely agrees that the referendum wouldn’t directly affect Macau. He says however, that he is invited to French, German and Italian events in the MSAR by virtue of being considered a European, and that he certainly considers himself as one.
“I think that there is a sense of togetherness among Europeans in Macau, slightly against the Americans and the Australians and the other ‘gwai lo’,” he jokes.
The outcome on June 23 could present wide-reaching ramifications for the rest of the union, as well as elsewhere. According to a BBC report late last month, the net contribution of the UK to the EU amounts to about £161 million (MOP1.88 billion) per week, although other estimates (publicized by the leave campaign) put this figure as high as £361 million (MOP4.21 billion) per week. The loss of this contribution could put added stress on an already fragile economic bloc.
Germany’s DZ Bank predicted last month that a British exit might cost the German economy alone £34.8 billion (MOP405 billion) by 2017, and the country might fall into recession. According to conservative media outlet Breitbart, the head of the Berlin Stock Exchange said last week that if Britain votes to leave, Germany may not be far behind, contrary to what Denmark’s Prime Minister expressed at around the same time; that Denmark would never follow Britain in an EU exit.
Leaders from other countries have also weighed in on the issue, such as Japan’s Shinzo Abe and outgoing U.S. president Barack Obama, who both urged Britain to stick with Europe. Even presidential hopeful Donald Trump threw his lot in, backing Brexit and arguing the case that the UK is “better off” outside the EU.
The vote this month will be the third referendum to be held in the UK within the last five years, following a Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and a campaign to alter the voting system in Britain in 2011.
“I find it quite amazing that we have had two referendums in such a short period of time,” said Stow, referring to the Scottish referendum. “I would hope that, whatever the outcome of the referendum, this reflects a wake-up call for the government as in the case of Scotland [in the aftermath of 2014].”
Indeed there are some similarities between the two plebiscites in the use of political scaremongering and the question of a contingency plan in the event of an exit.
“There isn’t a real contingency plan. I don’t think the ‘Leaves’ have expressed an idea of what will happen [if they get their way],” said Timmermans.
BBAM will hold a breakfast meeting today at 7.45 a.m. at the St. Regis Macao, Cotai, titled: “Bremain or Brexit: The debate over the UK in/out referendum.”

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