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Italian foreign minister warns against punishing the UK in Brexit talks

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano warned against punishing the UK in Brexit negotiation talks.

Italian foreign minister warns against punishing the UK in Brexit talks
Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano (R) will meet his British counterpart Boris Johnson on Wednesday. Photo: John Thys/AFP

As the UK triggered Article 50, marking the start of negotiations, Alfano, who will meet counterpart Boris Johnson on Wednesday, stressed that the UK is “leaving the EU and not Europe”.

He told RTL radio: “We are allies in Nato, for example, and there are crucial issues such as security and defence on which London is a reliable ally for us.”

He'll meet Johnson in London, where he said he would reiterate the importance of safeguarding the rights of Italians living in the UK and ensuring they have the same rights ensured to British people working in European countries.

Italians living in the UK told the Italian daily, La Stampa, that they no longer “feel welcomed”.

Barbara Fassoni, a 48 year old architect from Milan who moved to London in 2015, said: “I sense a climate of uncertainty, I don't know what will happen but I feel like an unwelcome guest.”

And as EU leaders met in Rome on Saturday to celebrate the bloc's 60th birthday, thousands of British citizens joined Marches for Europe across the continent in a show of support for the union.

“This wasn't an 'anti-Brexit' march and we don't want to reverse Brexit – it was a march generally in favour of Europe,” Jeremy Morgan, the spokesperson for British in Italy, told The Local.

The group has been campaigning to push the rights of British citizens abroad to the top of the agenda in Brexit negotiations.

British in Italy counts over 600 members and works together not only with other groups of Britons in EU countries, but also with the 3 Million, the biggest group of EU citizens living in the UK.

The group has given evidence to the House of Commons Committee for Exiting the European Union, lobbied to get an amendment to the Brexit Bill passed in the House of Lords, and put their case to officials in Rome's British Embassy.

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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