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BREXIT

British expats in EU launch Brexit legal dispute

British expats living in Spain, France and Italy launched a legal challenge on Tuesday against the 2016 referendum, arguing Leave campaign broke electoral laws, therefore making the Brexit vote unconstitutional.

British expats in EU launch Brexit legal dispute
Photo: AFP

The legal challenge was presented by pro-EU advocacy group “UK in EU Challenge”, which represents Britons living in France, Italy and Spain.

The group submitted on Tuesday a judicial review against Prime Minister Theresa May at London’s High Court, arguing that the recent Electoral Commission findings on BeLeave and Vote Leave mean that the UK referendum to leave the EU was not a legal, fair or free vote.

In a statement on its website, UK in EU Challenge wrote “recent revelations show beyond reasonable doubt that the Leave campaign cheated in the Brexit referendum”.

“The Electoral Commission found “beyond reasonable doubt” that Vote Leave, the official campaign, cheated on its spending limit by almost £700,000 (6 percent).

“In a general election, local authority election or local authority referendum the courts can declare the vote null and void if there has been cheating of exactly this type,” the website reads.

The case presented by Croft Solicitors, the legal team representing the four British expats in question, argues Theresa May’s decision to trigger Article 50 was not in line with the U.K.’s “constitutional requirements”.

 

 

One of the four named claimants is Elinore Grayson, a British expat living in France. 

“It is fundamental that illegal intervention in British elections does not go unchecked,” she is quoted as saying by The Guardian.

“The principle of nullity when a decision was made on incorrect or misleading facts is a longstanding one and we wish to ensure that continues to apply at this crucial time.

“Many people across the EU, myself included, are reliant on bestowed rights to live their daily lives; there must be zero tolerance when it comes to cheating, misrepresentation and non-disclosure of information.”

The British government is resisting the group’s legal action on the grounds that it is “out of time” and that a similar appeal has already been dismissed.

But Croft Solicitors argues the claim isn’t outdated as only last July the Electoral Commission found that BeLeave spent £675,000 of undeclared money.

Almost 80 percent of the estimated 1 to 2 million Brits living in EU countries are of working age or younger.

Many of these expats fear their livelihoods and freedom to move around Europe are under threat, a sentiment the group UK in EU Challenge shares.

“The most important Court challenge yet. UK citizens living in the EU, your rights are in very serious jeopardy- so too for EU citizens in the UK. All are affected,” reads a Facebook post by the group.


 

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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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