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BREXIT

‘No-deal now a likely scenario’: Brits in EU fearful after Brexit deal rejected again

Lawmakers in London rejected Theresa May's Brexit deal for a third time on Friday, leading to a fall in value of the pound, the EU declaring an emergency summit and Brits around Europe increasingly worried about the likelihood of a no-deal exit.

'No-deal now a likely scenario': Brits in EU fearful after Brexit deal rejected again
Theresa May ponders a third defeat to her Brexit deal. Photo: AFP

British Prime Minister Theresa May lost the latest vote on her withdrawal agreement by 58 votes, a narrower margin than previous shattering defeats but a body blow nevertheless to her much-maligned Brexit plan.

The result of the vote means that at present Britain are heading out of Europe on April 12th – the extended deadline agreed between London and Brussels – unless the prime minister can come up with a plan B that satisfies Europe's 27 member states.

In that case the EU and Britain would have to agree to a longer extension which would likely mean the UK taking part in the elections for the European Parliament in May.

The increased likelihood of a no-deal sent the level of the pound falling on Friday as it ducked below the $1.30 mark for the first time since March 11th.

That meant bad news for all those retired Brits living in the EU who rely on their pensions to live. Currency experts say the level of the pound is unlikely to rise again until the Brexit conundrum is solved.

'It's a tough ride for Brits in Europe'

After the vote Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, called an emergency summit for April 10th, two days before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Britons in the EU will now be extremely concerned that the deadlock in Westminster could lead to the UK crashing out of Europe without a deal, which would lead to their rights being severely restricted.

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe and Remain in France Together said: “Nobody can be complacent about the risk of no deal though, as a long extension needs two things: a roadmap from the UK, and the unanimous agreement of all the EU27 heads of states.”

“It's a tough ride for Brits in Europe, as it is for all the 5 million, who are conflicted between needing certainty about our rights and not wanting to see a damaging Brexit.

“Parliament has to come up with an alternative that it can get behind. So the next key day will be Monday when we should get a sense of whether there's any hope of that happening,” said Meadows.

The EU said this week that its no-deal preparations were complete and individual EU states have all been passing laws to allow Britons to continue to stay and to give them time to register.

After the vote on Friday the EU commission said: “A “no-deal” scenario on 12 April is now a likely scenario. The EU has been preparing for this since December 2017 and is now fully prepared for a “no-deal” scenario at midnight on 12 April. The EU will remain united.”

And the French presidency said Friday that a vote by British lawmakers to reject Prime Minister Theresa May's EU divorce deal for a third time “increased very strongly the chances of a no deal exit”.

“The United Kingdom needs to urgently present an alternative plan in the next few days. Failing this, and it is becoming the most likely (outcome), we will see the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a deal,” read a statement issued by the presidential palace.

'End our uncertainty now!'

Nevertheless the campaign to have the citizens' rights aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement ring-fenced have so far failed to achieve success with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier suggesting it was a “distraction” this week.

British in Europe's co-chair Jane Golding told The Local on Friday that MPs must now end the uncertainty for the 1.3million Britons in Europe.

“Yesterday, Michel Barnier said that ring-fencing 5 million people’s citizens’ rights in the event of a no deal Brexit was a ‘distraction’ from securing a withdrawal agreement,” said Golding.

“Today’s House of Commons should give him and the EU 27 urgent pause for thought.”

“Since landing slots and Dover tailbacks get the most ‘No deal’ attention, we are happy to dress up as planes and haulage trucks if it gets the EU 27 to focus on real people and the nightmare that a crashing out Brexit poses for us.

“Once again we call on the EU and the UK to ringfence the hard won citizens' rights part of the withdrawal agreement now, before all the good work ends up in the bin and it's too late to take real people's lives' off the negotiating table.”

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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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