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BREXIT

No-deal Brexit: New government guidance won’t reassure pensioners in France

The UK government released more "no-deal" Brexit guidance on Tuesday aimed at reassuring those citizens living in the France who receive pensions and benefits but the information is unlikely to ease their worries.

No-deal Brexit: New government guidance won't reassure pensioners in France
Photo: AFP

The British government announced on Tuesday that it would implement its no-deal Brexit contingency plans in full, which will include putting 3,500 troops on standby and reserving ferry space for supplies.

With Theresa May's Brexit deal seemingly doomed the government has decided to ramp up its no-deal planning, which will no doubt send pulses racing among the 1.2 million Brits living throughout the EU, who will see their rights end when the UK leaves the EU on March 29th.

Part of those preparations has been to send advice to the public about the likely impact on their lives of Britain crashing out of the EU without a ratified agreement.

On Tuesday guidance was published directed at pensioners living in the EU and those who receive benefits from the UK on what would happen next.

The good news was retired Brits will still be able to receive their state pensions in the event of a no-deal Brexit. And the pensions and benefits will still be transferred into their accounts in EU countries automatically.

But when it comes to having their pensions uprated – in other words guaranteed minimum increases in state pensions – there was mixed news.

“The UK leaving the EU will not affect entitlement to continue receiving the UK State Pension if you live in the EU, and we are committed to uprate across the EU in 2019 to 2020,” the government said.

“We would wish to continue uprating pensions beyond that but would take decisions in light of whether, as we would hope and expect, reciprocal arrangements with the EU are in place.”

In other words Brits living in the EU will be used as bargaining chips.

And there was similar doubt when it came to the question of Britons being eligible to receive benefits paid by the country where they live.

“In the unlikely event the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK will call on the EU and its member countries to continue their commitments to EU citizens and protect the rights of UK nationals living in EU countries,” read the government's guidance

“We want UK nationals to be able to stay in the EU countries that they live in when the UK leaves the EU, and for their rights to employment, healthcare, education, benefits and services to be protected.”

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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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