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BREXIT

Defeat for rights of Britons wanting to return from EU in future

A proposal to protect the family rights of British people in Europe returning to the UK has been voted down in the UK parliament.

Defeat for rights of Britons wanting to return from EU in future
Brits may be 'locked out' of the UK if their EU partner can't meet income requirements. Photo: AFP

While British people who move to live within the EU before December 31st 2020 are protected by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, this doesn't cover family reunification rights if they want to return to the UK.

So if British people now living in the EU and married to an EU national want at some point to return to the UK, their EU spouse will be subject to the UK's strict new immigration rules.

READ ALSO What is the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and does it cover me?

 

These include language and income requirements and mean that some British people face having to make a choice between their family in the UK and their European partner or spouse – those who return to the UK to care for family members for example may struggle to meet income requirements.

The citizens' rights group British in Europe has been supporting an amendment to the Immigration Bill that would allow Britons established in the EU before the end of the Brexit transition period to maintain the right to return to the UK with their European family members without them being subject to strict immigration rules and means tests.

However the amendment was defeated by a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

A spokesman for British in Europe said: “We are of course disappointed by the result, and appreciated the support of all the peers who spoke up for us and especially Baroness Hamwee, who put the arguments so well and the amendment to a vote again.

“Obviously the government recognises the unfairness of this change, otherwise they wouldn’t have agreed to a grace period at all, although a three-year grace period that starts before the rules have changed is a nonsense!

“We simply don’t understand why the rules could not remain unchanged for a finite group of people for a finite and fair period and only for pre-existing family members as we asked.

“But this is also a wider issue about the fairness generally of the minimum income requirement for all those affected and we are very glad that Baroness Hamwee alluded to that too.”

Unlike most new Brexit rules, which come into force at the end of the transition period on January 1st 2020, the new immigration rules for the EU family members of British people living in the EU have a grace period – they will not come into effect until March 2022.

It means that many British people living in the EU, especially those with ageing family members back in the UK, may now need to have serious conversations about where they see their long-term future.

Although the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement gives many guarantees for people to be able to stay in the country they are currently living in, it doesn't cover any onwards moves to another EU country and it in effect 'locks out' many Britons from returning to the UK, unless their EU partners can fit the new immigration criteria.

READ ALSO 'Doors will close for Brits in the EU' – why the UK's immigration proposals sparked alarm

 

 

 

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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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