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BREXIT

Wary French could scupper Cameron’s Brexit deal

The French are increasingly uneasy about some of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s demands and seem likely to block any deal to reform the EU and avoid a potential Brexit.

Wary French could scupper Cameron’s Brexit deal
Photo: AFP

President François Hollande joins other European leaders for the crucial “Brexit summit” in Brussels on Thursday but it’s clear he does not see eye to eye with Cameron.

Leaked papers released to the British newspaper The Guardian on the morning of the summit revealed that France and the UK are still at odds over Cameron’s wish for non-eurozone members to have greater ability to stall financial regulation in the economic bloc.

A mention in the document of a proposed new rulebook for Eurozone and non-eurozone countries was included in square brackets, essentially meaning there is no agreement on the issue.

France is wary that Cameron is simply trying to fulfil his longstanding wish to gain special status for the City of London.

Britain, which does not use the euro, wants a deal that will protect it from ever having to pay into a fund to protect the eurozone.

It also wants any issues that affect all member states to be discussed by all member states and not just the 19 nations that use the euro.

France, which along with Germany is a key decision-maker in the bloc, reportedly fears this could amount to Britain having a veto over the plans of eurozone countries.

Cameron hopes to walk away with a deal that will allow him to campaign for Britain to stay in the EU in a planned Brexit referendum, that could take place as early as June.

But the PM also faces a tough task to convince Eastern European nations to bow to his demand to impose restrictions on benefits to migrants.

The UK Prime Minister made a surprise visit to Paris on Monday night in a last ditch bid to try and convince Hollande before Thursday’s summit.

However he left empty handed with a French official saying “more work was needed, particularly on economic governance.”

It is clear that many in France are growing tired of the UK constantly placing demands on the EU.

Veteran French MEP Daniel Cohn Bendit believes the EU should tell Cameron to get lost.

“The British say we want to stay out of the Eurozone but the Eurozone is so important to us that we still want say how it is run and that's not on,” Cohn-Bendit told Europe1 radio.

“If we do this then other countries will just follow and say, 'well you did this for the English so why not for us.”

“We just have to say 'No'.”

On the eve of the summit French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that Britain's exit from the European Union would be “a shock” for Europe but that members could not pick and choose rules that suit them.

“We believe and we hope” that a deal is possible to keep Britain in the EU, Valls told France's parliament.

“Because the departure of Britain would signify … a shock for Europe, but more importantly a shock to the way the world sees Europe, which is already in crisis.”

A summit of all 28 EU leaders will take place in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, at which British Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to win backing for a package of reforms to his country's relationship with the bloc.

Cameron says the reforms are necessary to convince Britons to vote to stay in the EU in a referendum that could take place as soon as June.

Valls said France would be “particularly vigilant” on the issues of free movement of EU citizens, and relations between countries in the eurozone and others.

“Europe should be a place of solidarity between states and we cannot choose 'a la carte' based on what suits us,” Valls said.

“Europe is a whole that we can adapt, but we can't rework it only according to our particular interests, otherwise a line is crossed.”

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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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