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GIBRALTAR

Spain will have veto over Gibraltar in Brexit talks

In what was widely hailed as a victory for Spain, the EU said Spain must have a say over whether any deal after Brexit applies to the British territory of Gibraltar, over which London and Madrid have rowed for 300 years.

Spain will have veto over Gibraltar in Brexit talks
The Gibraltar Rock is pictured from La Linea de la Concepcion near the southern Spanish city of Cadiz on March 28, 2017. Photo: AFP

“After the United Kingdom leaves the union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom,” the guidelines released by EU president Donald Tusk say.

The tiny British overseas territory on Spain's southern tip has long been the subject of an acrimonious sovereignty row between London and Madrid, which wants Gibraltar back after it was ceded to Britain in 1713.

Spain has proposed that Gibraltar be allowed to remain in the EU in exchange for shared sovereignty with Britain over the Rock.   

But residents overwhelmingly voted to remain with Britain in two sovereignty referendums in 1967 and 2002 and Britaisn has repeatedly reassured the Rock that its status was non-negotiable.

The leaders of the remaining 27 EU countries — including Spain but excluding Britain — are set to adopt the guidelines at a summit on April 29th.

British Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered the two-year Brexit process on Wednesday with a letter to the EU that failed to mention Gibraltar.

Gibraltarians overwhelmingly (95 percent) voted 'remain' in the referendum last year and it's government has repeatedly expressed alarm at what may occur with Brexit.

The day after the Brexit vote, Spain's former foreign minister José Manuel García Margallo boasted that the result meant “the Spanish flag will fly over Gibraltar sooner than (Chief Minister) Fabian Picardo thinks”.

British Conservative MEP Ashley Fox, who represents the South West of England & Gibraltar said he would table an amendment to the guidelines.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, the Leader of the House and the Lord Privy Seal, insisted on Thursday that Gibraltar would form part of Brexit negotiations.

“I understand that the reason why Gibraltar was not mentioned in the letter is that it is not part of the UK for the purposes of EU law,” she told the House of Lords in answer to a question from a Labour peer.

“However, we are very clear that Gibraltar will of course be covered in our exit negotiations and will be fully involved.”

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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