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ELECTION

Is Emmanuel Macron’s win in France really bad news for Brexit?

British Prime Minister Theresa May congratulated France's incoming president Emmanuel Macron but eurosceptics reacted angrily on Monday to his election victory, saying it was bad news for the Brexit talks.

Is Emmanuel Macron's win in France really bad news for Brexit?
Photo: AFP

Brexit firebrand Nigel Farage said Macron would be European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's “puppet” while the Leave.EU campaign group compared his election win on Sunday to France's surrender to Nazi Germany. 

“France's new hope puts cloud over Brexit,” read a front-page headline in the Daily Telegraph. The paper said Macron could be expected to “continue with France's already tough stance on Brexit”.

In the Daily Mail, which also supported Britain's shock vote to leave the EU last year, columnist Robert Hardman wrote that Macron “stands alongside those who favour the big stick rather than the big carrot”.

Brexit a crime

Macron, a pro-European centrist, has been critical of the Brexit vote during the campaign, defining it a “crime” in an interview for Monocle magazine in March.

As he arrived for his victory speech outside the Louvre museum in Paris on Sunday, the European Union's anthem “Ode to Joy” played out — a fact that was highlighted in British media reports.

Photo: AFP

But Macron's chief economic adviser said on Monday that Emmanuel Macron will hold a “tough” line during Brexit negotiations but will not seek to “punish” Britain.

“I don't think anybody has an interest in a hard Brexit,” Jean Pisani-Ferry told the BBC.

“There is a mutual interest in keeping prosperity that exists and has built over the years… and obviously also the security and defence relationship, which is extremely important.”

Analysts have said that while Macron is likely to be tough on Britain's divorce settlement, a victory for Marine Le Pen would have been a worse outcome as it would have meant negotiating with a European Union in disarray.

His election “may make it easier for the EU to come to a sensible conclusion” on Britain leaving, Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King's College London, told AFP.

Macron's victory is “good news for Europe as a whole, including the UK,” he said, underlining that Le Pen “would have been far worse”.

He also said, however, that Macron was likely to “take a relatively hard line on the UK's continued participation in the single market”.

Given his banking background, he could also seek to lure more financial jobs to Paris, Portes said Crispin Blunt, head of the British parliament's foreign affairs committee, made the same point.

“We don't want to be negotiating with an EU in existential crisis — which it could be if Le Pen had won,” the Conservative MP told the Daily Telegraph.

May's Downing Street office issued a brief statement saying she had congratulated Macron and discussed Brexit with him but gave no further details.

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.” He also said he would aim to bring back to France some of the thousands of French expatriates who have moved to Britain in recent years.

In his election manifesto, Macron 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.

'Tough' on Brexit

Relations between May and EU leaders have become increasingly rancorous in the run-up to Britain's general election next month, with the prime minister accusing Brussels of making “threats” against the country over the highly complex divorce proceedings.

Macron's chief economic advisor Jean Pisani-Ferry told BBC radio that the new French leader would be “tough” with Britain but would not set out to punish it and would seek to avoid a “hard Brexit”.

“There will be a tough negotiation and he will be tough,” he said. When asked if France could seek to “punish” Britain for voting to leave the EU, he answered: “Punish? Certainly not.”

But Britain's Leave.EU group was scathing. A tweet on its official account next to an image of the Eiffel Tower read simply: “RIP France”.

Another referred to France's surrender to German forces during World War II. “The French rolled over in 1940. This time they've saved Germany the fuel and bullets,” it said.

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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