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BREXIT

UK moves towards Brexit delay as MPs vote to rule out a no-deal exit

The House of Commons twice rejected a no-deal in different votes on Wednesday, but PM Theresa May warned that a no-deal exit remains the default legal option and gave MPs a final ultimatum to back her much-maligned deal or face a lengthy delay to Brexit.

UK moves towards Brexit delay as MPs vote to rule out a no-deal exit
Graphic: The Local.

The sinuous logic of the Brexit process continued to manifest itself in the UK parliament on March 13th as British MPs voted to reject leaving the EU without a deal by 43 MPs. The motion does not however guarantee that anybody can say goodbye to a no-deal.

“The legal default in UK and EU law remains that the UK will leave the EU without a deal unless something else is agreed. The onus on everybody in this house is to find out what that is,” said British Prime Minister Theresa May in reaction to the defeat.

The options are the same, added PM May: vote for her deal, hold a second referendum (which would “damage the fragile trust between the British public and this house” or negotiate a new deal, which she acknowledges the EU is reluctant to do. She has lost her voice and again sounds like she swallowed all 500+ pages of her deal.

May signalled that she would put her deal – already defeated in two previous votes – before the House of Commons for a third time next week, in the hope that Conservative rebels and her DUP allies will finally get behind it given the threat of a lengthy delay to Brexit.

If MPs did back her deal then she would seek a short extension of Article 50 until June, May hinted.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as other EU leaders have hinted that the EU could approve an extension. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU Commission, has said he would prefer that an extension end before the May 23rd European parliamentary elections. 

A debate and vote on whether the UK should now seek an extension will be held on Thursday March 14th. 

The motion set next Wednesday March 20th as a deadline to vote on the current deal. The final scheduled EU summit before the UK's currently-scheduled departure from the EU (March 29th) is on March 21st-22nd.

UK MPs may have rejected a no-deal exit, but European leaders and EU officials are upping their preparations for such a scenario. 

“We, the Spanish people, are ready for any scenario, with or without a deal,” Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez wrote in an editorial in the Madrid-based daily El Pais. 

In his sanguine editorial, PM Sanchez added: “It is impossible to understand Brexit without taking into account the conjunction of three factors. A nationalism that advocates the withdrawal from the exaltation of myths and false nostalgia, the advance of the extreme right and the simplification of democracy around the figure of the referendum as a tool from which to offer simple answers to complex problems. 

British in Italy, part of the British in Europe coalition, summed up the feeling among 1.2 million frustrated UK nationals living in Europe who fear losing key rights related to healthcare, residency, work, the right to remain and to move. 

“An unresolved Gordian Brexit knot”; “uncertainty still remains” – “this domestic politics mess is unparalleled”. To catch up on all the reactions from Europe tonight and from last night, have a browse through our live blogs from the last two days. 

READ ALSO: RECAP: UK parliament votes to reject a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances

READ ALSO: RECAP: 'We've taken a step further into uncertainty on our rights': UK nationals in EU react to May's defeat

 

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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