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Hollande tells May: get moving on Brexit

French President François Hollande has called on British Prime Minister Theresa May not to delay her country’s exit from the EU, claiming that Brexit threatens the fragile French economy.

Hollande tells May: get moving on Brexit
François Hollande arrives for the Bastille Day parade. Photo: Stéphane de Sakutin/Pool/AFP

“The sooner Theresa May starts the procedure for the UK to leave the EU, the better relations between the UK and the EU will be,” Hollande said in his traditional Bastille Day televised address, which he also used to threaten to sack his rebellious economy minister, Emmanuel Macron.

Hollande warned that Britain would not be able to have its cake and eat it in its negotiations to leave the EU: 

“The UK outside the EU cannot have what it had on the inside.”

Some British politicians on the Leave side have been demanding access to the EU’s single market, while insisting that they would not accept the free movement of people.

The President, who faces the voters next year, said that while the French economy was improving external events such as Brexit made it fragile.

“I am acting to ensure that Brexit has the smallest possible effect on our economy,” he said.

Earlier, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had criticised new British foreign minister Boris Johnson, whom he accused of lying in the EU referendum campaign.

France has been one of the EU countries most positive towards Brexit, with Hollande previously hinting that Paris could benefit from financial services companies fleeing London.

Hollande also said he would join with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to form a programme to boost investment in the continent.

“We will double European investments in the next five years,” he said.

Remaining on the subject of Europe, he called for national parliaments to have a greater role in European decision-making.

Hollande used the speech to defend his economic policy, saying that 8 million households would benefit from tax cuts this year, and promised further cuts if growth outstrips 1.7 percent in 2017.

He also mounted a strong defence of his controversial labour law reforms:

“In order to stimulate employment, it was necessary to give companies room for manoeuvre.”

“I think that my strategy – not removing rights from employees while at the same time improving companies competitiveness  – was the right one,” he said.

“If you don’t want to be unpopular, it’s better to do nothing. That’s not my conception of political action,” he said.

But he issued a strong warning to his rebellious Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, who has set up his own political movement and has been hinting that he might run against the president in 2017:

“Emmanuel Macron has accompanied me since 2012. He wants to meet the citizens, and that is useful and always positive.”

“There are rules, however. If you don’t respect them, you can’t stay in government.”

 

 

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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