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EUROPEAN UNION

Europe’s leaders bicker as Brexit reality bites

The European Parliament's chief called on Sunday for Britain to begin proceedings to leave the EU at a summit this week, as Germany suggested the country should be given time to "reconsider".

Europe's leaders bicker as Brexit reality bites
"Remainers" ponder an uncertain future. Photo: AFP

Amid confusion and dissent over the timetable for any “Brexit”, Martin Schulz told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag that a period of limbo would “lead to even more insecurity and thus endanger jobs”.

“Hesitating simply to accommodate the party tactics of the British Conservatives hurts everyone,” Schulz, a German Social Democrat, said.

“That is why we expect the British government to now deliver. The summit on Tuesday is the right time.”

However German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff insisted there was no rush to show Britain the door.

“The political leadership in London should have the chance to reconsider once again the consequences of a withdrawal,” Peter Altmaier told the RND media group.

He noted that once Britain left the union, it would be a “serious turning point with many consequences”.

Altmaier had earlier told German public radio that he had “no indication” that British Prime Minister David Cameron would start the Brexit process Tuesday.

“I tend to think that the application will be filed in the coming weeks or months, possibly only by a new government,” he said.

After it has been formed, the new British government will “then sort itself out and, as the case may be, present its application. We should all wait calmly for that”.

However the four biggest groups in the European Parliament have also drawn up a draft resolution calling for Cameron to set the Brexit ball rolling on Tuesday, Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported.

This was crucial, the groups wrote, “to avoid damaging uncertainty for all and to preserve the integrity of the union”.

They added that “no new relationship of whatever kind between the United Kingdom and the EU can be agreed before (Britain's) exit accord has been completed”.

Cameron said Friday in the wake of the shock referendum outcome favouring Britain leaving the EU that he would resign his office by October and leave the Brexit negotiations to his successor.

To begin the withdrawal process, Britain must invoke Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon treaty, which has never been used before.The first step is to inform the European Council of member states, which sets the clock ticking on a two-year timetable of negotiations.

The EU will hold a summit in Brussels Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the fallout from the British vote and the European Parliament will also hold a special session.

Foreign ministers from the EU's six founding states meeting in Berlin on Saturday urged Britain to begin the exit process “as soon as possible”.

Merkel, however, was more cautious, saying it was up to Britain to decide when to begin withdrawal proceedings, although they should not “drag on forever”.

“There is no reason to be nasty in the negotiations. We have to follow the rules of the game,” she said.

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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