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BREXIT

Britain and EU set out competing Brexit delay dates

Prime Minister Theresa May asked the European Union on Friday to delay Britain's departure until June 30 while Brussels suggested that it might be best to postpone the split for up to a year.

Britain and EU set out competing Brexit delay dates
European Council President Donald Tusk during a debate last month in Strasbourg. Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP
EU leaders also reacted sceptically, saying that there had to be a strong justification for any further delay. 
 
The competing visions of how to unwind Britain's 46-year EU membership will be hashed out again at a summit in Brussels on Wednesday.
 
Strong resistance is likely against May's plan, which would involve Britain planning for European elections on May 23 but then not actually holding them.
 
The current Brexit deadline of April 12 has already been pushed back once from March 29 because of the UK parliament's repeated failure to back the deal May signed with the other 27 EU leaders in December.
 
May's formal request to EU Council president Donald Tusk said Britain thinks the delay “should end on June 30 2019” — the same date she asked for and was refused at the last EU summit last month. 
 
“If the parties are able to ratify (the withdrawal agreement by) this date, the government proposes that the period should be terminated earlier,” May wrote in a letter released by Downing Street.
 
A senior EU official said that Tusk's own idea for a “flexible” 12-month extension “will be presented to member states today [Friday, ed.]”.
 
But a source in French President Emmanuel Macron's office said it was “premature” to consider the request without “a clear plan” from May about what she intended to do with the extra time.
 
France's Europe Affairs Minister Amelie de Montchalin said: “Another extension requires that the UK puts forward a plan with a clear and credible political backing.
 
“In the absence of such a plan we would have to acknowledge that the UK chose to leave the EU in a disorderly manner,” she said.
 
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said May still had “many questions” to clarify.
 
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte — seen as one of May's closer European allies — also said the letter “doesn't answer” important concerns.
 
'Political cover'
 
May said Britain would start preparing for European Parliament elections in case it is still a member of the bloc when they begin on May 23.   The idea is deeply unpopular with Britons who voted to quit the EU and chart their own future in a 2016 referendum whose arguments are still being waged to this day.
 
Political analysts in London said May probably knew that her new deadline will be rejected because EU leaders do not think she can get her deal through parliament any time soon. May is under intense pressure from the right wing of her Conservative Party to pull Britain out of the bloc as soon as possible — with or without a deal.
 
“I think that Theresa May is looking for political cover because she is asking for an extension she knows she can't get,” said King's College European politics professor Anand Menon. 
 
She wants Brussels to “force her to do something else so that at least she won't get accused of selling out.”
 
'Fight to save Brexit'
 
Britain and the other 27 EU nations must give unanimous backing to any deadline extension. Some EU leaders fear that Britain's participation in the European Parliament vote will help boost the standing of anti-EU parties due to their popularity among Brexit-backing Britons.
 
UK far-right leader Nigel Farage called on his supporters Friday to vote for his Brexit Party in the European election.
 
“The fightback to save Brexit has begun,” Farage tweeted.
 
Breakthrough unlikely
 
May's team is currently negotiating with leaders from the main opposition Labour Party in a bid to find a compromise that can pass parliament in the coming days. But the talks do not appear to be going well.
 
“We are disappointed that the government has not offered real change or compromise,” a Labour Party spokesperson told reporters. “We urge the prime minister to come forward with genuine changes to her deal in an effort to find an alternative that can win support in parliament and bring the country together.”
 
May's letter said the talks' failure would likely see the two parties jointly produce several options that would be put up for a series of parliamentary votes.
 
Labour is pushing May to accept a much closer post-Brexit alliance with the bloc that includes its participation in a customs union. May had previously dismissed the idea because it bars Britain from striking its own trade deals with global giants such as China and the United States.
 
By AFP's Dmitry Zaks
 

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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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