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EUROPEAN UNION

US urges EU and UK to ‘divorce amicably’

US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed regret Sunday that Britain has chosen to leave the European Union and vowed Washington will maintain close ties with the bloc.

US urges EU and UK to 'divorce amicably'
Kerry said the ideal of unity must remain paramount as Britain negotiates "Brexit". Photo: AFP

Kerry, who flies to Brussels and London on Monday for crisis talks with EU and British leaders, said the ideal of unity must remain paramount as Britain negotiates “Brexit”.

“An EU united and strong is our preference for a partner to be able to work on the important issues that face us today,” Kerry told reporters during a visit to Rome.

“One country has made a decision, obviously it's a decision that the United States had hoped would go the other way,” he said, alongside Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

“The vote about Brexit and the changes that are now being thought through have to be thought through in the context of the interests and values that bind us together with the EU.”

Gentiloni said Brexit demonstrated the need for the EU to change.

“We are working to relaunch the Union in light of the decision by the British electorate.

“Our historic friendship with Britain and our alliance through NATO are not up for discussion.

“The challenge we have before us is to translate a crisis into an opportunity by turning a difficult moment into the occasion to relaunch the EU.”

Washington was dismayed last week when British voters chose to leave Europe, a decision that triggered global economic uncertainty and fears other EU members will follow suit.

But Kerry said he had no doubt that Europe would pull together and reassure the markets, noting that even without Britain the EU single market counts 455 million consumers.

President Barack Obama had also made clear his concern about the referendum, and now US officials are scrambling to try to stop the political crisis harming Western unity.

Kerry arrived in Rome on Sunday on a planned visit to have lunch with Gentiloni and a working dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But officials on his flight said that on Monday he would fly on to EU headquarters in Brussels to meet EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Mogherini had been expected to meet Kerry in Rome on Sunday, but she was busy dealing with the fallout of the dramatic vote, which stunned European and world leaders.

From Brussels, Kerry will continue to London to see Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and other officials from outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron's government.

Hammond and Kerry are expected to hold a joint news conference before Kerry leaves to return to Washington.

Obama and Kerry have been at pains to insist the vaunted “special relationship” between Washington and London will survive what US officials view as the Brexit debacle.

But Washington foreign policy experts are all but unanimous in assessing that the White House will increasingly turn to core EU allies to defend its interests on the continent.

Obama himself, on a visit to London last month, warned British voters that their nation would go “to the back of the queue” for a US trade deal if they voted “out.”

US officials are also keen to help London's divorce from Brussels go through smoothly without inflicting further damage on skittish world financial markets.

But they, like many EU capitals, are also concerned not to allow Brexit to serve as an inspiration for eurosceptic forces in other members such as Italy or The Netherlands.

The London visit will be the first by a senior US official since Thursday's dramatic referendum, when voters demanded Britain leave the world's richest trading bloc.

Kerry's trip had originally been planned as an opportunity to meet Netanyahu and discuss regional security and the stalled Israel-Palestinian peace process.

But US officials played down the chance of any concrete progress, insisting that the pair meet regularly and that no new initiative would be on the table.

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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