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BREXIT

EU says ‘hearts are still open’ to a Brexit reversal

European Union President Donald Tusk said on Tuesday that the bloc's "hearts are still open" to Britain if it changes its mind about leaving.

EU says 'hearts are still open' to a Brexit reversal
Photo: AFP
Tusk's comments weighed into a debate in Britain about whether to hold a second referendum on Brexit, following the June 2016 vote to leave.
   
He won the backing of European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who urged London to heed the suggestion that it could stay in the bloc.
   
“If the UK government sticks to its decision to leave, Brexit will become a reality with all its negative consequences in March next year, unless there is a change of heart among our British friends,” Tusk told the European Parliament, to light applause.
   
“Wasn't it (British Brexit minister) David Davis himself who said if a democracy cannot change its mind it ceases to be a democracy?” he told the assembly in a speech about last month's EU summit.
 
“We on the continent haven't had a change of heart. Our hearts are still open to you.”
 
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Leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage surprisingly pushed the issue back onto the agenda last week when he said he was increasingly open to the idea of a second referendum.
   
Former UKIP leader Farage said it would silence those in Britain who do not want to leave the bloc, but it was quickly seized upon by pro-EU politicians.
   
British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman later ruled out a second vote. British voters in 2016 chose to leave the EU by 52 percent to 48 percent.
   
Juncker however called on the British government to listen to Tusk's suggestion.
   
“Tusk said our door still remains open and I hope that that will be heard clearly in London,” the former Luxembourg prime minister said.
 
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Photo: AFP
 
'I am a dreamer' 
 
It is not the first time the former Polish premier has suggested Britain could change its mind.
   
In June, Tusk channelled the spirit of late Beatle John Lennon when he said that some of his British friends had asked whether the “impossible” idea of Britain staying in the EU could come true.
 
“You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one,” he said, quoting Lennon's song “Imagine”.
 
Tusk meanwhile stressed that the remaining 27 EU states would push ahead with negotiations with Britain on its departure, urging London to say what it wanted in terms of post-Brexit ties.
   
“What we need today is more clarity on the UK's vision. Once we have that, the leaders will meet and decide on the way that we see the future relationship with the UK as a third country,” Tusk said.
   
He added that “we must keep the unity of the EU 27 in every scenario”, amid reports that member states are increasingly divided on how tough to be on Britain.
   
“The hardest work is still ahead of us and time is limited.”
   
Britain and the EU reached a deal in principle on separation issues in December, and are due to start talks next month on a short transition period after Britain's departure in March 2019.
   
Talks on future relations — including the all-important issue of a possible trade deal, and how closely Britain will stay allied to the EU's single market and customs union — are not due to start until April.
   
Brexit will loom in the background when French President Emmanuel Macron goes to Calais later Tuesday to pressure Britain to contribute more to dealing with migrants trying to cross the channel.

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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