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BREXIT VOTE

EUROPEAN UNION

Brits: don’t let bumbling councils steal your vote

British electoral authorities have a terrible record when it comes to processing overseas ballots. Laura Shields says Brits abroad need to pile on the pressure - now.

Brits: don't let bumbling councils steal your vote
A pro-EU campaigner hands out leaflets in London. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP
Councils in the UK have form on messing up when it comes to expat voter registration. 
 
I have personally heard stories of Brits abroad who received their postal ballots weeks after last year’s British General Election because the relevant council not only sent the papers out just four days before the election but also marked overseas post with second class UK stamps. I have also heard how authorised proxies were denied the right to vote on behalf of overseas friends or relatives because the polling station had no record of the request being made. Other Brits living in Portugal and wishing to vote in the forthcoming EU Referendum have had no acknowledgment that their registration request has even been received.
 
Meanwhile, the 16th May  ‘deadline’ for expats to register to vote in the Referendum is looming.
 
This is not about whether you think it’s right that Brits abroad should retain voting rights in the UK. That argument is still being thrashed out as I type. And not all councils are inefficient about registration: many do a very good job with few resources.  Rather, this is about making the current system work, at least for those who are still eligible. 
 
So what’s to be done? Quite simply, if you want to vote in the EU Referendum you should check in with your local council straight away (and certainly before the 16th May deadline).  If you haven’t registered to vote (and have been registered in the UK within the past 15 years), you should do so now, ideally by proxy or postal vote (although these are far less reliable).  If you’ve picked the postal vote option, you should also ask when the papers will be sent out and keep in touch to make sure you receive them in good time. 
 
Crucially, the Electoral Commission says Brits abroad don't need to re-register every year, but they do need to declare with their local authority that they are still eligible to vote. This means that all Brits abroad who want to vote on 23rd June should contact their local authority to check if they are still considered eligible by them. Each local authority has different rules for making a declaration. Some accept a phone call, others require letters, formal proof etc. In practical terms this means if a local authority has not proactively sought to check, you will likely not be able to vote, until you resubmit a declaration.
 
Unlike other elections, in the case of the EU Referendum, every vote really does count. The polls show those wishing Britain to 'Remain' and those wanting us to 'Leave' are level-pegging again. So Brits abroad who want to vote need to make sure that we keep the pressure up to exercise our democratic rights. 
 
We can’t take anything for granted. Particularly, not the post.
 
Laura Shields is Campaign Spokesperson for Brits Abroad: Yes to Europe, a non-partisan 'get out the vote' initiative managed by the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats. The campaign has a Facebook page with up-to-date news about the debate. More information on the Brussels and Europe Lib Dems referendum campaign and practical advice about voting can be found by clicking here.

TRAVEL NEWS

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

A week after chaotic scenes and 6-hour queues at the port of Dover, the British motoring organisation the AA has issued an amber traffic warning, and says it expects cross-Channel ports to be very busy once again this weekend as holidaymakers head to France.

Amber alert: Travellers to France warned of another busy weekend at UK ports

The AA issued the amber warning on Thursday for the whole of the UK, the first time that it has issued this type of warning in advance.

Roads across the UK are predicted to be extremely busy due to a combination of holiday getaways, several large sporting events and a rail strike – but the organisation said that it expected traffic to once again be very heavy around the port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Last weekend there was gridlock in southern England and passengers heading to France enduring waits of more than six hours at Dover, and four hours at Folkestone.

The AA said that while it doesn’t expect quite this level of chaos to be repeated, congestion was still expected around Dover and Folkestone.

On Thursday ferry operator DFDS was advising passengers to allow two hours to get through check-in and border controls, while at Folkestone, the Channel Tunnel operators only said there was a “slightly longer than usual” wait for border controls.

In both cases, passengers who miss their booked train or ferry while in the queue will be accommodated on the next available crossing with no extra charge.

Last weekend was the big holiday ‘getaway’ weekend as schools broke up, and a technical fault meant that some of the French border control team were an hour late to work, adding to the chaos. 

But the underlying problems remain – including extra checks needed in the aftermath of Brexit, limited space for French passport control officers at Dover and long lorry queues on the motorway heading to Folkestone.

OPINION UK-France travel crisis will only be solved when the British get real about Brexit

The port of Dover expects 140,000 passengers, 45,000 cars and 18,000 freight vehicles between Thursday and Sunday, and queues were already starting to build on Thursday morning.

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