Boost for Brits in EU as UK government backs key Brexit amendment

Campaigners for the rights of Britons across the EU were celebrating a small but potentially significant victory on Wednesday when the UK government announced it would back an amendment aimed at protecting the rights of Brits after Brexit.

Boost for Brits in EU as UK government backs key Brexit amendment
Photo: AFP

After a day of confusion and chaos in Westminster the UK government gave a much-needed and timely boost to the 1.2 million Britons living through out the EU and the 3 million in EU citizen in the UK when it decided to back a potentially crucial amendment.

The amendment, put forward by Conservative MP Alberto Costa, would, if given the green light by MPs on Wednesday evening, force British Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a deal with the EU to ring-fence the citizens' rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement before Brexit Day on March 29th.

On Tuesday Prime Minister May had spoken against the amendment and then on Wednesday MP Alberto Costa was forced to resign from the government, much to the disgust and shock of other MPs and campaigners. 


But then to everyone's surprise the government announced it would back the amendment. With the support of the government plus at least 150 MPs from all parties, both pro and anti-Brexit, it appears certain the amendment will be voted through.

Campaign groups British in Europe and the3Million were celebrating victory.


However there is still a long way to go before the rights of Britons are ring-fenced.
On Tuesday Theresa May suggested the EU “did not have the legal authority to do a separate deal on citizens' rights without a new mandate.” 
Although the3Millon say their own legal experts suggest she is wrong.
Speaking on Wednesday Minister David Lidington said the EU had previously made it clear that it would not allow just the citizens' rights part of the withdrawal agreement to stand on its own.
But he says the government will now take it up with Brussels and see if they can be persuaded to change position.

Member comments

  1. Where does the figure of 1.2 million Brits in Europe come from? Are they the ones who are registered with a British Embassy/Consulate? Apart the fact that we renew our British passports every ten years for nearly 4 decades, no-one in British officialdom has a clue where my wife and I live – and there are doubtless many like us. So what is the real number of disenfranchised Brits on the continent, I wonder? I would guess far in excess of the official number.

  2. Do we know yet if this ring-fencing applies just to those who already have cartes de sejour of some kind. Our prefecture will not take in any applications until May, so they say, and hence are we left out in the cold?

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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.