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BREXIT

EU ready to give UK more guarantees on Brexit: Barnier

The European Union is prepared to give Britain further Brexit guarantees to help a divorce deal through the British parliament, the bloc's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said in an interview published Saturday.

EU ready to give UK more guarantees on Brexit: Barnier
Michel Barnier at a session of the EU parliament in Brussels. Photo: AFP

“We can find guarantees to confirm, clarify, guarantee the goodwill and good faith of the Europeans with commitments which would have real legal force,” Barnier said in comments published in several European newspapers including Die Welt in Germany and Les Echos in France.

Barnier also suggested European leaders would be amenable to a short “technical” delay in Britain's departure from the EU, scheduled for March 29th, to give the British parliament time to formally ratify a final divorce deal.

The British parliament rejected the original Brexit deal hammered out by Prime Minister Theresa May and EU leaders.

The major sticking point was the so-called “backstop” plan for the Irish border. Some MPs fear the arrangement, which would keep Britain tied to EU trade rules until another way is found to keep the frontier open, is a “trap” that could bind it to European commerce rules indefinitely.

Barnier said there was “misunderstanding” over the proposed backstop deal.

“Limiting it in time or introducing a unilateral exit clause would call into question its credibility,” the EU's top Brexit negotiator insisted.

The backstop “will end either when we have a global agreement on the future relationship, or a specific agreement with Ireland,” he said, assuring it “was never the wish” to bind Britain to European trade rules indefinitely.

Barnier said he would Britain's Brexit minister Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox next week to discuss options.

A Brussels source said those talks could take place in the Belgian capital on Tuesday.

“There is a way that the British (parliament) could vote, between now and March 12th, with these guarantees of our good faith, It will be up to them to fulfil their responsibilities,” Barnier said.

In 2017, Britain invoked Article 50 of EU law, triggering a two-year countdown to Brexit that ends at 11pm on March 29th.

The country is on course to leave without an agreement after British MPs in January overwhelmingly rejected the divorce deal May struck with the EU late last year.

The embattled leader is now seeking changes to the pact which she hopes will be enough to get it through parliament by March 12th.

In a revised strategy unveiled this week, May vowed that if her deal is rejected, lawmakers will vote in the following days on whether to leave without a deal or delay Brexit.

But European leaders have warned any postponement would come with conditions.

Barnier suggested a short delay could be acceptable.

“The European institutions will do whatever is necessary on their side but the British have told us in the past that they will need two months to ratify” the deal.

“It would then require a simple technical extension.”

While Britain is yet to request a delay, “I don't think there would be any objections in principle” from the other 27 EU nations, Barnier said.

However, any delay “must serve to solve a problem, not merely to postpone it and remain at an impasse.”

READ ALSO: Boost for Brits in EU as UK government backs key Brexit amendment

Member comments

  1. don’t give any more time – The British parliament cannot resolve anything – NO DEAL is the only resolution

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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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