EU cannot be ‘held hostage’ to Brexit crisis: Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday warned the European Union could not "be held hostage" to the Brexit crisis and said that a lengthy extension of the deadline for Britain to leave the bloc was "not a certainty".

EU cannot be 'held hostage' to Brexit crisis: Macron
Leo Varadkar, left, and Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Speaking during a visit to Paris by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, the French leader said: “The EU cannot be held hostage to the resolution of a political crisis in the United Kingdom on a long-term basis.”

He added that France was “open” to a lengthy extension of the Brexit deadline on certain conditions but that it was “neither a certainty nor automatic. I am repeating it here with conviction.”

READ ALSO Britons' ultimate guide to planning for a 'no-deal' Brexit

The French president hosted the Irish Prime Minister at a summit at the Elysees Palace on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

The comments underline growing frustration in Paris about the Brexit process, which has diverted attention away from pro-European Macron's plans for reinforcing the bloc.

Following the rejection of British Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed Brexit deal three times, and inconclusive votes on alternative ideas in the House of Commons, Macron said the country was on course to crash out of the EU.

“If the United Kingdom is unable three years after the referendum to propose a solution that commands a majority, it will have chosen de facto for itself to leave without a deal and we are unable to prevent this failure,” he said. 

Repeating what was expressed by European leaders at a meeting in Brussels on March 22, Macron said “it is up to the United Kingdom to present a credible alternative plan, backed by a majority, between now and April 10.”

The meeting between Macron and Varadkar was billed as an opportunity for them to exchange views on Brexit, and the French leader said: “We will never abandon Ireland and the Irish, whatever happens, because that solidarity is the very meaning of the European project.”

But differences are emerging between the two sides as the possibility of a “no deal” Brexit looms, which would lead to the creation of a border between the UK territory of Northern Ireland and Ireland.

“We need to talk about what we will do in the event of 'no deal', which will be particularly difficult for Ireland,” Varadkar admitted.

In the event of a “no deal” Brexit, the Irish border would become the only land frontier between non-EU Britain and the rest of the bloc and would therefore in theory need to have customs controls.

But Ireland has been steadfast in refusing any reintroduction of a physical border, which was removed as part of a peace agreement reached in 1998 to end decades of conflict on the island.

Refusing border controls however could lead to the introduction of checks between Irish exports and the rest of the European Union, experts and officials have warned.

A spokeswoman from the French government said on Monday that France wanted to avoid “Brexit causing Ireland to be detached from the European Union.”

The EU's Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said Tuesday the EU was working with Ireland “on a unilateral basis in the event of a no-deal deal, to know where we can do these checks” but refused to elaborate further.

“We are working very closely with Irish authorities to try and perform controls away from the border if at all possible,” an EU official, who did not wish to be named, said last week.

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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.