Britain and Malta have a pretty long history together, and have built up quite a friendship through the years. Over two hundred years, in fact, from the point where Malta voluntarily became part of the British Empire in 1800. Although the last British services left Malta in 1979, the two countries have kept strong ties, and learnt quite a bit from each other. Maltese people still drive on the left side of the road, enjoy a good cup of tea, speak English, and love the Queen (incidentally also the Queen of Malta until 1974). On the more serious note, there is also a lot of trade, services, and movement of people between Britain and Malta – both in business and in private life. The fact that both countries form part of the European Union means that Britain and Malta agreed to partner up, along with 26 other countries, to work together and pool their resources, so that life can ultimately be better and more peaceful for their citizens. This means that legally, the Maltese must treat the British like one of them, and vice versa, as though everybody belongs to the same country.
All of this also means that quite a few Maltese people are interested in what happens in Britain, and whether or not Britain decides to leave the European Union in a referendum taking place on the 23rd June. Britain exiting the EU (or ‘Brexit’), could make it much harder for people from both countries to work together, connect, and benefit from one another. A lot of EU agreements currently make this process of co-operation much easier. However, these would either no longer be in place, or would need to be renegotiated, if Britain votes out of the EU. This could be particularly tough for the Brits who want to live, work, use health services, study, or do business in Malta, and vice versa. And that’s quite a large number of people. The 2011 Maltese population census showed that 6,652 out of 20,289 non-Maltese residents in Malta (in a population of approx. 420,000) held a UK passport. This makes Brits the largest group of non-Maltese residents on the island. On the flip side, UK statistics (Office for National Statistics, Population by Country of Birth and Nationality Report: August 2015) show that approximately 27,000 people who were born in Malta lived in the UK in 2014. Brits living in Malta are unable to vote in the referendum. However, Maltese (along with Irish and Cypriot) citizens residing in the UK are the only EU citizens who are allowed to vote in this referendum, since they are also citizens of the Commonwealth.
It’s important to remember that the European Union came into existence many years ago, after the devastating effects of the Second World War. It was created so that neighbouring countries could unite, live peacefully, and avoid conflict. The rules and agreements of the EU have been created with this in mind. They try to make sure that EU citizens have their basic human rights met, so that all citizens have access to basic things like health care and education, and protection from harm, regardless of where they are in Europe. It’s a way for European countries to say “We’re in this together”. Some people feel that Britain will do a better job of looking after its citizens if they go it alone and make their own rules, while others disagree and think that Britain is stronger as part of Europe, since it has received a lot of benefits from co-operating with other EU countries.