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BREXIT

Macron or Le Pen: Who worries Britain’s Brexit supporters the most?

Many Brexit supporters fear Emmanuel Macron will play hardball in Britain's negotiations on leaving the European Union. But would they really be better off if Marine Le Pen were to win?

Macron or Le Pen: Who worries Britain's Brexit supporters the most?
All photos: AFP
EU leaders are relieved at the prospect of a victory for Macron, a pro-European centrist, in a run-off on May 7 against eurosceptic far-right leader Le Pen.
   
But for commentators on all sides of the political divide in Britain, Macron spells bad news for Prime Minister Theresa May as she embarks on Brexit talks after her own expected re-election in June.
   
“Emmanuel Macron would be bad for Brexit and Theresa May,” said the eurosceptic Daily Telegraph newspaper, which is close to May's Conservatives.
   
“French presidential favourite Macron may drive hard bargain in Brexit talks,” said the left-leaning Guardian.
   
May formally notified the EU on March 29 of Britain's intention to end its 44-year-old membership, following the shock referendum vote for Brexit last June.
   
In order to curb mass migration into Britain, she intends to pull Britain out of Europe's single market, while still pressing for access for British firms.
   
But several EU leaders have warned Britain cannot “have its cake and eat it”.
   
Macron dedicated a chapter to Europe and its benefits in his election manifesto, and on Brexit, said he would defend the integrity of the single market.
   
“All companies who have access to it must be subject to the same rules,” he said.
   
In a rare honour for a presidential candidate, Macron met May in London in February, where he promised “a fair execution of Brexit protecting French and European interests”.
   
But he told a rally of expatriate voters afterwards: “The best trade deal for Britain… is membership of the EU.”
 
 
'Macron as the enemy' 
 
The Financial Times daily laid out several reasons why Macron as president “could make matters a good deal tougher for the British in Brexit talks”. 
 
“He is a convinced European” who will likely offer few concessions — particularly on access to the single market for Britain's dominant financial services sector.
   
“Some analysts believe that as a former Rothschild banker, he will want to do everything possible to maximise Paris's position as a financial centre after Britain's departure,” the FT said.
   
Others take a more emotive view.
   
“I see Macron as the enemy,” said Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) who was a key player in the Brexit vote, and now backs Le Pen.
   
“He wants Brussels to be even stronger, and I can't see that it's in our interests when the Junckers and others are all lining up to try and punish Britain,” Farage told LBC radio, referring to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
 
Simon Tilford, deputy director of the Centre for European Reform, acknowledges that “on the face of it, it looks bad”. 
 
“Macron has taken quite a tough line on the whole issue of Brexit, arguing that the EU needs to take a tough line with Britain in order to set an example to other countries that might be tempted to follow a similar route,” he told AFP.
   
“Whereas Marine Le Pen has expressed understanding for the British position.”
   
However, he said “a tough line is not necessarily bad for Britain if it forces Britain to compromise and to be more honest about the trade-offs it faces”.
 
 
 
But what about Le Pen?
 
Some experts have warned that a Le Pen victory over Macron would not be as positive for Britain as some people might think. 
 
The centre of European Reform's Simon Tilford said: “From a European perspective, Britain has absolutely no incentive, or no interest, in the kind of political instability, or even chaos, that could follow the election of Marine Le Pen.”

 
Emily Mansfield, Europe Analyst from the Economist Intelligence Unit told The Local last week that if Le Pen were to win “it would not be good news at all for Britain's Brexit negotiations”.
 
“The other EU member states would see a Le Pen win as a potentially existential threat to the bloc, especially coming on the heels of the Brexit vote, and would react by digging in their heels,” she said. 
 
“They would present a united front, making clear that being outside the EU must necessarily be inferior to being inside, in order to dissuade Eurosceptics elsewhere, and to convince French citizens that in the event of a referendum they should vote to stay in the EU,” Mansfield said.
 
“In other words, there would be a much more pressing need, from the perspective of all 26 other EU members, to make sure that Britain suffers the results of Brexit. 
 
“Of course, Britain might feel that its position was bolstered by being in line with that of France — but whether the British establishment would feel comfortable aligning itself with a far-right French president is another question, particularly given the impact this might have on its relations (and indeed negotiations) with the other EU member states.”
 
 
Analysis: No, Marine Le Pen would not be good for Britain's Brexit hopes
 

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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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