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EU announces no-deal plans to guarantee road and air travel with UK in January

With Brexit talks between London and Brussels seemingly deadlocked, the EU has published its no-deal contingency plans to ensure that road and air links with the UK can continue in January.

EU announces no-deal plans to guarantee road and air travel with UK in January
Photo: AFP

With the EU and the UK still far from reaching a deal, according to reports, Brussels has made a move to publish its contingency plans to ensure travel can continue after the end of the transition period.

“While the Commission will continue to do its utmost to reach a mutually beneficial agreement with the UK, there is now significant uncertainty whether a deal will be in place on January 1st 2021,” read a statement on Thursday.

“The European Commission has today put forward a set of targeted contingency measures ensuring basic reciprocal air and road connectivity between the EU and the UK, as well as allowing for the possibility of reciprocal fishing access by EU and UK vessels to each other's waters.”

If no deal is reached between London and Brussels then the legal agreements that allow flights to operate between the UK and the EU and road passenger and haulage to run smoothly will expire.

So on Thursday the EU put forward contingency plans to allow road transport connectivity and flights to continue operating, but they were conditional on the UK accepting the rules.

The aim of these contingency measures is to cater for the period during which there is no agreement in place. If no agreement enters into application, they will end after a fixed period.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “Negotiations are still ongoing.

“However, given that the end of the transition is very near, there is no guarantee that if and when an agreement is found, it can enter into force on time.

“Our responsibility is to be prepared for all eventualities, including not having a deal in place with the UK on January 1st 2021. That is why we are coming forward with these measures today”.

The basic contingency plans are as follows:

  • Basic air connectivity: A proposal for a Regulation to ensure the provision of certain air services between the UK and the EU for 6 months, provided the UK ensures the same.
  • Aviation safety: A proposal for a Regulation ensuring that various safety certificates for products can continue to be used in EU aircraft without disruption, thereby avoiding the grounding of EU aircraft.
  • Basic road connectivity: A proposal for a Regulation covering basic connectivity with regard to both road freight, and road passenger transport for 6 months, provided the UK assures the same to EU hauliers.

The UK had not officially responded but the government's transport secretary, Grant Shapps has said previously: “The government’s priority is to ensure that flights can continue to operate safely, securely and punctually between the UK/EU at the end of transition period, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.

“Air travel is vital for both the UK and the EU in connecting people and facilitating trade and tourism, and we are confident measures will be in place to allow for continued air connectivity beyond the end of 2020.”

For passengers travelling between the UK and the EU after January 1st a raft of changes will come in regardless of whether or not a deal is reached – full details here.

Travellers from the UK also face the possibility of being excluded from the EU under Covid rules that have seen the Bloc's external borders closed to all non-essential travel since March.

 

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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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