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BREXIT

‘English cheddar will have more free movement rights’: Brits in Europe slam latest Brexit agreement

Many Brits living in Spain and throughout the EU have been left deeply unsatisfied after the UK and the EU announced on Monday they had agreed to extend citizens rights through the 18-month transition period that will follow official Brexit days.

'English cheddar will have more free movement rights': Brits in Europe slam latest Brexit agreement
Photo: bhofack2/Depositphotos

Britain is scheduled to formally leave the European Union on March 29th, 2019 – the day known as official “Brexit Day” – however an 18-month transition period will follow to help the “orderly withdrawal” of the UK.

On Monday the EU's chief negotiator and the British government's David Davis announced they had settled on “a large part” of the transition period agreement, which they described as a “decisive step”.

However nothing is set in stone nor has anything been signed off because outstanding issues are complicating matters.

For a start it will last from March 29th to December 31st 2020.

On the subject of citizens rights the two sides have agreed that those EU citizens arriving in the UK and those Britons who head to Spain and elsewhere in the EU before the end of the transition period will benefit from the same rights and guarantees as those who arrived before Brexit.

“We agreed that British citizens and European citizens of the 27 who arrive during that transition period will receive the same rights and guarantees as those who arrived before the day of Brexit,” said Barnier.

In other words anyone who is desperate to move to Spain can now take a little more time safe in the knowledge that if they 'get in the door' before the end of 2020 they will have the same rights as those already here.

The agreement meant another climb down for UK Prime Minister Theresa May who had previously suggested any EU citizens who come to the UK during the transition period would not enjoy the same rights as those who had already made the move. What rights those who move after the transition period will have are yet to be decided.

Despite Monday's much-heralded announcement Britons living in Europe said they had no more certainty about their post-Brexit futures and blasted the fact that “English cheddar cheese would have more free movement rights.”

Jane Golding, Chair of British in Europe said: “Contrary to what David Davis and Michel Barnier are saying, this document provides no more certainty for the 1.2 million British people living in the EU 27, EEA and Switzerland than they had this morning.

“Not only does the text look as though it has been rushed out under pressure but in his statement, Mr Barnier once again said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, meaning there will not be legal certainty for the 4.6 million people most directly affected by Brexit until the agreement is finally signed off,” said Golding.

One of the major complaints from campaign groups such as British in Europe is that those 4.6 million people most affected by Brexit, including the more than 200,000 who are permanently resident in Spain, have still been given no guarantees over their continued right to freedom of movement throughout the EU after Brexit.

Without continued freedom of movement many Britons feel they will effectively be landlocked in their country of residence.

“In fact, the agreement is as clear as mud when it comes to our future rights to move and work across the EU, either as people falling under the Withdrawal Agreement or as third country nationals,” said Golding.

“As things stand, after Brexit English cheddar will have more free movement rights than we will”, said Golding. she said.

“It seems that Article 32 – which covered restrictions to our future cross border working rights and free movement – has now vanished. And yet, it is still referred to in other parts of the text,” said Golding.

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“So, while we are pleased that this restrictive provision has been removed, we are confused and nervous about what might replace it.”

“Any withdrawal agreement will not provide certainty or security for UK nationals living in Europe until we know for sure that it includes guarantees on free movement and cross border working,” she added.

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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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