British parliament closure branded ‘a form of putsch’ in France

'Playing with fire' and 'a form of putsch' was the response in France to Boris Johnson's efforts to shut down the UK parliament until mid October.

British parliament closure branded 'a form of putsch' in France
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow. Photo: AFP

There was shock in the UK on Wednesday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that he intends to ask the Queen to suspend the British parliament from September 9th until October 14th – just three weeks before the current Brexit date of October 31st.

The speaker of the British parliament John Bercow described the move as a “constitutional outrage” and there was condemnation of the move across the Channel in France too.

The left-leaning French daily newspaper Libération published a scathing piece denouncing the move as “what looked very much like a form of disguised putsch, orchestrated, for once, by the government in power. Unless we are talking about a declaration of war by the government in the British Parliament.”


The piece, by the paper's London correspondent Sonia Delesalle-Stolper, went on to speculate the the Queen “probably choked on her porridge” upon hearing the news and added: “The undisguised objective of this absolutely extraordinary decision is to prevent members of the House of Commons from debating and legislating to block a Brexit without agreement on October 31st.”

Libération has previously seemed fairly unimpressed with Boris Johnson, describing him as a “future Queen's jester” when he became Prime Minister earlier this summer.

The conservative French daily Le Monde also reported the closure, adding that “In London, the 'no-deal' battle begins”.

Le Monde was not alone in the French press in pointing out that the pound fell sharply against the euro and the dollar after the announcement.

Radio station France Info also reported this, describing the move as a “thunderstorm in the United Kingdom” and adding that the falling pound “reinforces the hypothesis of a no-deal Brexit”.

Also describing the move as a “thunderclap across the Channel” L'Express added with a certain amount of understatement that “for reasons of timing, such a decision could complicate the task of elected officials wishing to prevent an exit without EU agreement.” 

Scathing comments greeted Johnson's appointment as British Prime Minister. Photo: AFP

Perhaps the bluntest assessment came from the centre right French daily Le Point, which headlined its article “Brexit: to counter opposition, the government suspends Parliament” before going on to warn that the move “will certainly trigger the wrath of many British elected officials”.

The French media were on the whole unimpressed when Boris Johnson – who has a long history of 'French bashing' – became Prime Minister in July.

As well as the aforementioned 'Queen's jester' from Libération, comments included a “known buffoon” and “dangerous”.



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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.