SHARE
COPY LINK

BREXIT

‘We can still be friends’: UK foreign secretary tries to soothe Brexit tensions with France

Britain's foreign minister sought to ease tensions with France caused by Brexit on Thursday in a speech given in French that paid tribute to the "bonds of friendship and commerce" between the countries. But he insisted there would e no second referendum.

'We can still be friends': UK foreign secretary tries to soothe Brexit tensions with France
Photo: UK in France

France has taken a hard line in the Brexit negotiations, with President Emmanuel Macron insistent that Britain should not be allowed to negotiate advantages for itself as it withdraws from the European Union.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also raised hackles in Paris last month when he compared the EU to the Soviet Union and suggested its members were trying to punish Britain for leaving.

But in Thursday's speech at the British embassy in Paris, Hunt told the audience — in French — that the neighbours will “remain tied by bonds of friendship and commerce for decades to come.”

Three days ahead of the 100th anniversary of World War I, when Britain and France allied against Germany, he emphasised the historic Franco-British partnership.

“It was a war in which our destinies as nations were yoked together — in which we fought and bled side by side for over four years — and in which, in the end, we prevailed,” Hunt said.

“It is a relationship of competition and cooperation, similarity and difference,” he added.

Britain is due to leave the 28-nation bloc on March 29 next year, but details of its withdrawal treaty have yet to be agreed.

Hopes that a deal could finally be sealed at a November summit meeting have faded in recent days but he reiterated the prime minister's stance that a second referendum would be undemocratic.

The issue is set to be discussed between Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday when they meet in northern France for a ceremony to mark the World War I Armistice. 

Hunt's speech reflects Britain's desire — reciprocated in Paris — to maintain close ties with France after Brexit despite the tricky negotiations and sometimes over-heated rhetoric.

Hunt tried to reassure the French that Britain will not pursue “a race to the bottom” after it leaves the European Union seeking to allay European concerns that Britain might seek to diverge sharply from European regulations.

“We have offered a framework for our future relationship which should give you confidence that we are not going to pursue a race to the bottom,” Hunt said.

Recent reports in the British tabloid media have suggested French ports are preparing to stall trade with Britain after Brexit — something categorically denied in France.

The countries are Europe's two biggest military powers and the second and third-biggest economies, after Germany's.

Member comments

  1. What does Jeremy Hunt mean, a second referendum would be undemocratic?
    The first one was undemocratic in that a large proportion of those who would be affected where barred from voting.
    Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May`s government are self serving, economic with the truth and don’t give a damn about us ex-pats.
    May I remind them that the referendum on staying or leaving the EU was not legally binding.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

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.

SHOW COMMENTS