France tells Britain – remember that you export most of your fish to the EU

France reminded Britain on Sunday that the UK exports most of its fish production to European Union countries, highlighting a potential bargaining chip in coming post-Brexit talks about fishing rights that promise to be thorny.

France tells Britain - remember that you export most of your fish to the EU
Photo: AFP

“This discussion will be pretty balanced because while it is true that we need access to British waters, the British need access to the European market,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French media.

Britain, a major fish producer, has “extremely fish-rich waters in which many Europeans fish, starting with French people from Brittany, Normandy and the northern region”, he said.

READ ALSO 'For over 40 years British and French fishermen have been working side by side – Brexit will change all that'

“It so happens that the United Kingdom exports 75 percent of its fishing production to the European Union,” he said.

Britain leaves the Common Fisheries Policy, which gives all EU fleets equal access to EU fishing grounds, after a post-Brexit transition period ends on December 31s.

Both sides will try to agree a trade deal by that date that would include fishing rights, a high-stakes area for France in particular.

Le Drian also warned that Britain could not access the EU's common market in future unless it respected anti-dumping rules.

“If the United Kingdom wants to establish a kind of Singapore-on-Thames outside the European Union we won't agree because if you want access to our internal market, you need to respect our rules,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that “taking back control” of fishing was one of the prizes of ending Britain's 47-year EU membership.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, whose country also has a strong interest in securing a good deal on fishing, this week told Britain: “You may have to make concessions in areas like fishing in order to get concessions from us in areas like financial services.”

Meanwhile Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator with Britain, said there was no way that a trade deal could be pursued separately from the fishing rights question.

“The fishing deal will be an integral and indissociable part of the trade deal,” Barnier told the French TV channel LCI.

“There's no surprise here,” Barnier said. “The British should not pretend that they are discovering this condition only now.”

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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.