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BREXIT

France sceptical about the idea of a third Brexit extension

France's Europe Minister Amelie de Montchalin reacted sceptically on Thursday to British MPs' quest for a third Brexit delay, saying that delaying the process again, "without changing anything", would not solve Britain's Brexit "problem."

France sceptical about the idea of a third Brexit extension
Protesters in the UK calling for Brexit to be scrapped. Photo: AFP

De Montchalin was speaking a day after British MPs approved a bill that could force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to delay Brexit until January or later.

“It's not because a problem is complicated that by diluting it over time and delaying it for three months without changing anything, it will be resolved,” she told France's Radio Classique.

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The French Europe Minister Amelie de Montchalin says the British 'need to tell Europe what they want'. Photo: AFP

“When I hear the British saying 'Give us three months more and we will solve the problem', we can see that another six months would not solve the problem, nor another three months.

“They have to be able to tell us what they want,” she said.

MPs voted three times to reject a deal negotiated by Johnson's predecessor Theresa May with the EU while at the same time making clear they opposed leaving the EU without an agreement.

“We know what they don't want but we are still struggling to understand what they do want,” De Montchalin said, describing the situation as “a bit blocked”.

Initially scheduled for March 29th, Brexit has already been delayed twice due to the failure of Britain's parliament to agree on the manner of the country's exit from the EU.

Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the union by October 31st, regardless of whether he has an agreement with the EU.

De Montchalin said France was continuing to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Tuesday that he considered it “the most likely scenario”.

De Montchalin also called it a “very strong possibility.”

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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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