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1 May 2018updated 04 Oct 2023 10:42am

As an EU citizen, I can’t bring myself to vote for Labour – or anyone else

“I want to vote. There’s just no one I really want to vote for.”

By Pauline Bock

Last weekend, I walked by a group of Lib Dem canvassers in my neighbourhood. I smiled at them and then immediately wondered why. I don’t have anything against Liberal Democrats, but in most past elections, I saw them as one of the “other” groups, competing with the one I already knew I would vote for.

I smiled, I realised, because it felt safe. Instinctively, my brain now associates “Lib Dems” with “people who don’t like Brexit”, which means that as an EU citizen, I’m safe with them.

It goes without saying that as an EU citizen, I don’t feel safe with the Tories – but I don’t with Labour, either. “Vote Labour” signs have blossomed in my street every spring for the last three years. A few days ago, I passed one, and instead of the usual excitement I feel at polling time (even the past two in which, as a European, I had no vote), I sighed. “Nope,” I said, knowing I couldn’t bring myself to support the party. Not this time. Not after all of this.

Like all EU citizens I have spoken to, the Brexit result angered and saddened me. The fact that Labour, a left-wing party I wanted to support, was unable to clearly back our rights, instead ultimately supporting the Brexit bill with no amendment, was salt to the wound. Because there may not be another local or European election before Brexit happens, and EU citizens in the UK lose their right to vote. Unless we become British citizens, this poll is probably our last.

This doesn’t even mean I want to vote for the Lib Dems: I don’t. Not after the “gay sex is a sin” thing, not after the Coalition. They’re still capitalising on Brexit to redeem themselves in front of an electorate they know they’ve lost. Knowing they support my rights is nice, but that should be a pre-requisite, not a party’s selling point to Europeans.

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In France, where I’m from, you can choose not to go to the polls, or to go and cast a “white ballot” – a ballot for no one. Unlike in the UK, where they are considered spoilt ballots, white ballots are counted in French results, so it’s different from abstaining. It says: “I want to vote. There’s just no one I really want to vote for.” I wish I had a white ballot this Thursday.

I’m hardly alone in feeling this way. When I asked the3million group, which campaigns for EU citizens in the UK, if it knew of others in my situation, dozens immediately replied confirming that they, too, were feeling unable to back their usual party for Brexit-related reasons. A new hashtag has appeared on pro-EU Twitter accounts: #ABTV, or “Anti-Brexit Tactical Voting”. In practice, the word of order is: don’t vote Labour or Conservative.

For some, the decision to turn their backs on Labour was a difficult one to make. “After the general election, I’ve felt betrayed,” Brontë Aurell, 42, a Danish business owner who has lived in the UK since 1992, told me. “Corbyn waited until afterwards before throwing us under the bus.” While most of her friends are “choosing the Lib Dems”, she will vote for the Women’s Equality Party.

Elisabeth Huizing, 52, a product manager from the Netherlands who has lived in the UK for 41 years, is “socialist and Labour at heart” – but this time, she, too, can’t give the party her vote. “My last vote as an EU national in the UK will be Green,” she said. “Jeremy Corbyn has good motives, but his insistence that freedom of movement will end and that immigrant labour reduces British workers wages will result in economic hardship for the very workers Labour represents.” Others are equally angry at the Labour leader: “I will not vote for Labour as long as Corbyn is leader,” Alwin Wiederhold, 49, a physicist from the Netherlands who lives in Gloucester, told me. “Labour is supporting Brexit in everything they do.”

Many share this idea of feeling “safe” with the Lib Dems when it comes to Brexit. Joe Kotroczo, a 41-year-old producer originally from Luxembourg who has lived in London since 2008, told me he “ended up voting Lib Dem” by postal vote, because “as an EU citizen, it seems unconscionable to vote Labour at this point in time”. Corinne Mokhefi-Ashton, 49, a Frenchwoman who has lived in Derby for 25 years, will vote for the Lib Dems too. In the past, she has alternated between Lib Dem (before 2010) and Labour (2010 to 2015). She told me she’s angry with her MP, Labour’s Chris Williamson, and with the party’s Brexit line: “They’ve supported the Tories in every vote.”

In recent decades, the left has championed immigration more than the right, but Labour’s lack of a clear Brexit line has led to a growing distrust of Labour among EU citizens, almost as widespread as that of the Tories. After the Windrush scandal and the Conservatives’ “hostile environment”, EU citizens now fear for their own situation in the UK, a few decades down the line. Guy Verhofstadt, the EU parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, has asked for adequate safeguards to prevent EU citizens from becoming the “next Windrush”. “The Windrush saga has highlighted just how inhumane UK hostile immigration policy is”, Fritz Dittmann, 51, told me. He has been in the UK for 20 years and used to vote Conservative, but will now vote neither Labour nor Tory.

Labour’s stance on Brexit is painful for EU citizens because it could have been an easy win for them, both on immigration and on opposing the Conservative government. “I want Labour to stand up loudly for the benefits that immigration has brought to the UK”, Huizing said.

I would like that, too.

Like most EU citizens, this vote will probably be my last in the UK. On polling days, my local bakery hosts a “doughnut election”: it prepares special pastries with party logos and keeps count of how many it sells for each. In the past it has sold “Remain” and “Leave” cakes, pastries with the faces of Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith, David Cameron and Ed Miliband. In the 2017 general election, I didn’t have a real vote, so I went to the bakery and “voted” by buying 15 Labour doughnuts

On Thursday, Labour still may get my “doughnut vote”. But after all of this – 676 days, but no real support or clear line on the issue that matters most to me and millions of Europeans in the UK – it will not get my real one.

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