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BREXIT

The ‘Brexit election’: Why Britons in Europe should register for a proxy rather than postal vote

With a UK to hold the "most important election in a generation" on December 12th, Brits in the EU are being urged to register to vote. Here are your options for voting from overseas.

The 'Brexit election': Why Britons in Europe should register for a proxy rather than postal vote
Is Britain heading for a new election? Photo: AFP

The UK is just weeks away from another general election and this one might matter more than most to Britons living abroad, especially those in the EU.

The general view is that the future rights of Britons living in the EU – and indeed their futures in general – will depend on who wins the next general election.

That's because the outcome of Brexit is still undecided.

While PM Boris Johnson wants a big majority to get his Brexit deal through parliament, opposition parties like Labour and the Liberal Democrats favour a second referendum or even cancelling Brexit altogether.

So Britons living in the EU are being urged to make sure they are registered to vote, at least those who are eligible.

Tens of thousand of Brits will be denied a vote because they have lived outside the UK for over 15 years.

But many more are simply not registered to vote.

Although there an estimated 5.5 million Brits living abroad in December 2013 – including 1.2 million in the EU – there were only 26,000 registered to vote.

After a campaign by the Electoral Commission that figure had increased to 264,000 by 2016.

So what do I need to do?

The first step to voting in any election in the UK is to make sure you are on the electoral roll or register. You can normally register to vote up to 12 days before a general election, after which the register closes.

You can do that online by visiting https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

You'll need certain information like your National Insurance number and your previous address as well as your passport number. But the process only takes a few minutes.

Note you will also be expected to say when you left the UK, which is important given the 15 year rule around voting. While you might be tempted to shift the dates to be able to vote, you are warned that the information you give must be truthful.

One thing to note is that you will be registered in the constituency where you last voted (or were last registered) rather than for example your home town.

Overseas voters need to re-register on the electoral roll every year so many voters end up falling off it in between elections without realising, even though reminders are meant to be sent out.

You can contact your local electoral office to find out your status.

Proxy versus postal?

When you register as an overseas voter you will be asked whether you want to vote by proxy (in other words get someone you trust to vote for you) or by post. You can also vote in person by returning to the UK although that's unlikely to be possible for most people.

The question of proxy or post is increasingly important, as current conversations on online forums will attest.

There have been numerous problems around postal voting in recent elections not least May's European elections when scores of Brits in the EU saw their votes go uncounted.

British resident living in the EU have been warned by local councils that proxy voting would be more reliable.

“If a snap election is called, the timetable for this election will be shorter than usual. Therefore there is a risk that overseas voters will not receive their postal ballot packs with enough time to return them to us by the close of poll,” read the text of a letter sent to one British voter in France from a London council.

“We wanted to make you aware of the risks and therefore encourage you to consider arranging a proxy vote instead.”

As a result, and due to the previous unreliability of postal voting, many Britons have concluded that it's better to register for proxy vote.

What you need to be aware of for a proxy vote is that it will be cast in the last constituency you lived in, so you will need to know someone living in that constituency who is registered to vote and who is willing to cast your ballot at the correct polling station. They will be sent a card telling them where exactly they need to go.

You'll need to also make sure your proxy voter is not casting ballots for others either as one voter is only entitled to cast ballots for TWO other people.

Note that local political parties offer to organise proxy voters for you if you are struggling to find one.

Proxy vote by post

Note that if your proxy cannot get to your voting station then they can also send in the ballot by post for you, although then you are relying on the post once again.

“If your proxy cannot get to the polling station, they can apply to vote for you by post. They can apply to do this by 5pm, 11 working days before the poll. They can contact the electoral registration office for more details and to request a further application form,” reads the information from the government.

It's basically a two step process and the advice is to get in touch with your Electoral Registration Office who can help you sort this out.

To apply for a proxy vote you need to download and send in this form to your former local electoral office by either email or post.

The application must arrive six working days before the poll.

If you are registered to vote and still prefer to apply for a postal vote then you can print and fill out this form and send it to your electoral registration office. To find out more visit www.yourvotematters.co.uk

Note that your application to register for a postal vote must arrive at the electoral office 12 days before the vote and your actual ballot must arrive by polling day, which unfortunately has not always been the case.

If you have any further questions or points to make about voting from overseas please contact us at [email protected]

Member comments

  1. “Tens of thousand of Brits will be denied a vote because they have lived outside the UK for over 15 years.”
    So where’s this so called democracy the readers of the British guttersnipe press are always screaming about?

  2. Ridiculous that we, the most affected, have no vote. We have, legally, lived and worked in France (twice), Spain and Belgium (three times) and have been resident, since 1999, in France. We have long-term cartes de séjours, but still risk losing our freedom of movement within the EU.
    No idea where the two previous, illiterate, comments are coming from

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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