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BREXIT

OPINION: This is the last chance to show Brits in the EU matter more than Cheddar cheese

While many Britons living throughout the EU may have felt relief that a cliff-edge exit from Europe was avoided this week, most lament the fact the "indecision and uncertainty" will be prolonged unless rights are ring-fenced, say the groups British in Europe and Brexpats Hear Our Voice in these letters.

OPINION: This is the last chance to show Brits in the EU matter more than Cheddar cheese
Photo: Axel Scheffler for British in Europe

British in Europe:



Citizens’ rights organisations British in Europe and the3million, who represent the five million people most directly affected by Brexit, demand an immediate end to crippling legal uncertainty in the wake of an agreed extension to the Brexit process until 31 October.
 
While the Withdrawal Agreement on citizens’ rights has been gathering dust for over a year all 28 EU member states are busy making their own, widely differing preparations on how to treat the five million people who have crossed the Channel to live in another EU country.
 
These five million people demand an urgent explanation as to why EEA EFTA  and Swiss citizens already have security about their rights, but they do not. They also plead with the EU to not waste the hard work that went into agreeing citizens’ rights and uphold them even in case of no deal.

Jane Golding, Co-Chair of British in Europe – which represents 1.3mn Britishcitizens living on the continent – said: “This may be the last chance before the European elections to show the five million people who used their free movement rights in good faith that they matter more than fish carcasses or Cheddar cheese.

“As almost a third of only 17 million Europeans who currently use their free movement rights, what message does it send for the future if the EU fails to protect their rights in this unprecedented situation? 

“We need a binding commitment now from both sides that rescuing the hard won citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal agreement will be the contingency, instead of the current contingency plans providing for 28 separate unilateral solutions without international treaty protection.”

It is unlikely that any post-no-deal-Brexit agreement on citizens' rights would have the same scope and rights as the Citizens' Rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement  – and it could take years to negotiate.
 
The current EU no-deal contingency plans for British citizens in the EU amount to little more than calling on Member States to ‘be generous’. This approach also leaves the 3,6 million EU citizens in the UK at the mercy of the UK government, which has already announced that their rights will be cut in a no-deal scenario.

Without the protection of an international treaty, future Britishgovernments will be free to reduce these rights even further. In addition, the campaign groups argue that dealing with areas like healthcare, pensions and social security will require a coordinated approach at EU-UK level. 

For more information on British in Europe CLICK HERE.

Brexpats Hear our Voice:

We fully endorse British in Europe and the3million’s demand today for “an immediate end to the crippling legal uncertainty in the wake of an agreed extension to… …31 October 2019”.

Business aside, there needs to be more awareness of how this affects people. Every week has been bringing us new worries since our lives were turned upside down, astonishingly close to three years ago.

This week of no deal?, short extension?, long extension?… has been one of the worst. How much more of hanging over the abyss, living with uncertainty do they think people can take? 

Our members are in countries that span from Spain to Finland, France to Bulgaria, Ireland to Estonia, Greece to the Netherlands… Stereotypes abound but we are more likely to gravitate to where the work is than to the bowling club or the beach, as almost 80% of UKinEU are of working age or younger.

Our members are from all backgrounds, perhaps employed or self-employed; families with young children or carers for older relatives; economically comfortable or economically challenged… in fact, all manner of situations, rather like “real people”! Many of us care very much about the UK and our family and loved ones there.

But the referendum set us and all EUinUK citizens apart. We are particularly concerned for the most vulnerable amongst us. By definition, that must include many of the 3 million+ EU citizens for whom it is very hard to be impervious to Theresa May’s ever hostile environment.

For many of our members the extension offers relief we are still in the EU, and hope but for others it is an even darker place or feelings are mixed.

Michael, Germany: “The cause of Remain is still alive…” Sue, France: “More time for more indecision and uncertainty…” Caomhin, Spain: “I like it because we haven’t left… I don’t like it because of the insecurity…” Mike, Italy: “Nothing has changed…” Christine, Spain: “Another six months of living on a knife’s edge…” Neal, Romania: “Underwhelmed…” Arthur, Hungary: “I am quite upbeat about it”. Lesley, France: “Good news and bad news all at the same time”. Linda, Belgium: “… I’m really sick of this (and I mean sick in all senses of the word – ask my doctor!)…” Chris, France: “My fear is that much of the damage to our country has already been done…”

No deal has been excused from the table this week so our battle for ring-fencing must go on. Or even better, revoke article 50 forthwith; it was after all, a highly dubious referendum.

For more information on Brexpats Hear Our Voice CLICK HERE.

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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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