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BREXIT

France ‘will not be blackmailed or rushed into a bad Brexit deal’

France 'will not sign up to a bad trade deal just to suit Boris Johnson's Brexit timetable'.

France 'will not be blackmailed or rushed into a bad Brexit deal'
France's Europe Minister Amelie de Montchalin is travelling to Brussels then London. Photo: AFP

That was the stern message from France's Europe Minister Amelie de Montchalin as she heads to Brussels and then London at the start of post-Brexit trade talks.

She said that she had a clear message on Brexit: “Just because Boris Johnson wants a deal at all costs by December 31st, we will not sign a bad deal for the French under the pressure of blackmail or timing.”

 

She added that protecting French fishermen, farmers and businesses was key for France.

Negotiations are now beginning for a trade deal between the UK and the EU after the end of the transition period – which currently ends on December 31st.

There is an option to extend the transition period if the UK requests it but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled that out, despite many experts warning that achieving a full trade deal in just 11 months will be extremely difficult.

READ ALSO Brexit: The key dates for the year ahead


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson with French president Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP

De Montchalin was echoing the words of her boss, French president Emmanuel Macron, who on Saturday said: “I am not sure that an agreement will be reached between now and the end of the year.”

He too stressed that fishing rights would be a key point of the negotiations.

Tensions have already flared over fishing rights when the island of Guernsey attempted to ban French fishermen from its waters after the UK left the EU on January 31st. After a week, French fishermen were then issued licences by Guernsey authorities.

France and several other countries want to be able to keep fishing in British waters, while London wants full autonomy and limited access for European fishermen.

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said the EU's top priorities are fishing, security and maintaining fair trading conditions for European companies.

He has also firmly rejected a British suggestion that City of London companies could be given broad, permanent access to EU markets without conditions.

Overall, French fishing boats generate 30 percent of their revenue from catches in British maritime territories, particularly rich in fish stocks.

French officials say that the UK exports the bulk of its catch to Europe, indicating that British fishermen have plenty to lose if the two sides fail to reach a deal.

Even if the UK and EU are unable to reach a deal on trade, the Withdrawal Agreement – which protects the rights of British people living in France – is still a legally binding agreement.

READ ALSO Withdrawal Agreement – what is it and does it cover me?

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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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