x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

5,500km away from home, expat Britons cast their vote

UK voters in the UAE feel the outcome of the elections will have a tangible effect on their lives, with expatriate tax, foreign policy, and economic recovery of particular concern.

ABU DHABI // Despite being 5,500km away from home, British residents in the UAE feel the outcome of the elections still have a tangible effect on their lives, with expatriate tax, foreign policy, and the country's economic recovery of particular concern. Tomorrow's election is expected to be one of the closest in decades, with the latest polls indicating a hung parliament, meaning that Britain's 5.5 million overseas residents could have a decisive say, particularly in swing seats. There are about 100,000 British expatriates in the UAE.

Peter Michelmore, the chairman of the British Business Group - Abu Dhabi, said the economic strategy of any new government will be vital. "We need to get the British house in order so recovery can start: we need to get exporting," Mr Michelmore said. "Obviously it's a major concern to British business people here. The later economic recovery starts, the slower and the more costly it's going to be." After exiting its worst recession since the Second World War in the last quarter of 2009, Britain has been left struggling with £848.5 billion (Dh4.7 trillion) in public debt. Although no party has explicitly proposed it, there is speculation that an "expatriate tax" on the earnings of overseas residents, will be introduced to boost cofffers.

"It's human nature that this is going to be one of the uppermost issues in the minds of people here," Mr Michelmore said. Andy Walters, 32, a Dubai-based British expatriate who works in shipping, said such a move would be a "disaster". "It would certainly make people think twice about moving to the UAE, where one of the major draws is tax-free living," he said. The Conservative Party has said explicitly that it would not introduce such a tax, but other parties have not given such assurances.

Foreign policy is also important to those living in the region, Mr Michelmore said. "Here in the UAE it starts to look like domestic policy from this angle," he said. He said foreign policy decisions such as the war in Iraq had affected Britons abroad "to an extent", although the trading relationship remained strong. Mr Walters agreed that foreign policy was particularly important, being "on the door step" of countries like Iran and Iraq. However, Ellie Calvalcanti, a mother of two who works at the Higher Colleges of Technology, said such domestic issues as health, education and pensions are those that matter.

"Top of the list would be health services and, with school-age children, education is important, as are pensions because one day we'll go back," she said. A complicated registration system and a disconnect from day-to-day politics may keep some expatriates from casting their vote. Mrs Cavalcanti, who has lived overseas for 18 years, said until this year she had not even realised she could vote. The electoral commission said about 15,000 overseas voters were registered at the end of the year, and just more than 30,000 registration forms have been downloaded from its site since, giving a rough indication of overseas turnout.