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BREXIT

‘Choose Freedom’: EU passport campaign launched across Europe

Imagine a post-Brexit scenario whereby Brits will be issued with EU passports to secure the right to freedom of movement across the 27 member states of the European Union.

'Choose Freedom': EU passport campaign launched across Europe
Photo: hyrons/Depositphotos

That is exactly what the European Commission will be asked to consider if a citizen’s initiative can garner one million signatures from across Europe.

The “Choose Freedom” EU passport campaign was launched this week with the support of Brits living across Europe.

Glyn Hughes, a 57-year-old engineering designer from Derbyshire, came up with the initiative.

Sue Wilson, the chair of  Bremain in Spain which campaigns for the UK to remain in the European Union and to protect the rights of British migrants living and working in Spain, is one of the co-signatories who presented the EU citizen’s initiative.

“There have been various schemes created in a bid to get EU citizenship but it’s complicated because the EU is not itself a nation state so can’t offer citizenship,” Wilson, who moved to Alcocebre in the province of Castellon with her husband a decade ago, told The Local.

“To get the rules changed would need another treaty. But the EU Commission does have the power to issue passports so our initiative is a way of achieving the same thing within rules that already exist.”

The proposal was accepted by the EU Commission as valid this week and now needs one million signatures in support over the next year in order to be presented for debate at the European Parliament.

“With 500 million EU citizens across 28 states, we have a lot to play with,” she said adding that any citizen can vote although there were exceptions against UK and Irish citizens residing in five countries, including France and Portugal, because of the voting laws of those countries.

 Brexit brings an uncertain fate to the estimated two million Britons who currently reside in EU-member states – and the three million EU nationals living in the UK – and the conditions in which they will be allowed to stay in their adopted homelands is up for negotiation once the British government trigger Article 50.

On Tuesday, Brexit Secretary David Davis told Sweden's EU affairs and trade minister Ann Linde that securing the rights of Brits living in EU nations is a priority for the UK government in its forthcoming negotiations over leaving the union.

“We are determined to get a good outcome for EU citizens in Britain and Brits in the EU, to protect the rights of British citizens and EU nation citizens and get an answer quickly,” he told the media at the Swedish Foreign Ministry’s office in central Stockholm.

“We would have liked to have an answer already, but it will be the very first thing on the negotiation agenda once they start. We understand people feel uncertain,” he added.

Brits in Spain are mounting campaigns to make sure their voices are heard.

“Whatever the result of the Choose Freedom campaign,” explained Wilson. “I hope – at the very least – that it will prove to all European governments how strongly we value our EU citizenship, and the lengths to which we are prepared to go to hold onto those rights and freedoms.”

For more information about the Choose Freedom campaign and to cast your vote, visit the Bremain in Spain website.

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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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