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BREXIT

Brexit expected to be postponed again at crunch meeting of EU leaders

European leaders were expected to postpone Brexit once again on Wednesday, when Prime Minister Theresa May comes to another last-ditch summit still without a ratified divorce deal.

Brexit expected to be postponed again at crunch meeting of EU leaders
Theresa May visited Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

British Prime Minister Theresa May toured Paris and Berlin on Tuesday to plead for an extension to the deadline for Brexit, which looked increasingly likely to be approved by EU leaders at a crunch meeting in Brussels.

May has asked for a second extension to the deadline for Britain's exit from the European Union from April 12th to June 30th, which is set to be discussed by her EU partners on Wednesday.

READ ALSO French government's decree for no-deal Brexit: What it means for you


Theresa May also visited Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

After flying to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel, May visited French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris who is seen as a hardliner in the negotiations and a key voice at the EU negotiating table.

Having raised doubts about whether an extension would be granted last week, meaning that Britain could crash out of the bloc without a deal, an aide to the French president underlined on Tuesday that France was open to solutions.

“We've never been closed to the idea of finding an alternative solution to 'no deal' within certain limits and not at any price,” the aide said on condition of anonymity.

Discussions in Brussels are set to focus on conditions such as length – the French aide said a 12-month extension “seems too long” – and arrangements to limit Britain's influence within the EU during this time.

“There would be a transition period for the United Kingdom as an intermediary member, which is present and applying the rules, but not taking part in decision making,” the aide said.

“There would need to be clear commitments and then a mechanism for monitoring them,” they added.

EU members are keen to ensure Britain does not have a say on issues such as the next head of the European Commission, which will be decided shortly, or the next five-year budget for the EU.

May is hoping the extra time, if granted by EU leaders, will enable her to finally get a divorce deal through parliament.

British MPs have rejected a deal May negotiated with the EU three times, but the PM is now in talks with the opposition Labour party to try break the deadlock.

These discussions are moving slowly, and EU negotiator Michel Barnier said May must explain in Brussels what another postponement would achieve.

“The length of the extension must be linked to the purpose – what it's for – and that depends on what Mrs May will say to European leaders tomorrow,” he told reporters after a meeting of EU ministers in Luxembourg.

A “no deal” – in which Britain crashes out of the EU – is still a possibility, but expectations of an extension helped lift the value of the pound on financial markets on Tuesday. 

“There will be a real discussion. Things have not been written in advance,” the French aide said of the leaders' summit in Brussels, adding that a “no deal” could not be ruled out.

The International Monetary Fund said Tuesday that Britain risks a serious shock if it leaves the EU without an agreement.

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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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