Spanish and Irish foreign ministers play down Brexit no-deal

The Irish and Spanish foreign ministers on Wednesday played down talk of a Brexit no-deal after both Britain and the EU vowed to step up preparations for the possibility of no such agreement emerging.

Spanish and Irish foreign ministers play down Brexit no-deal
Photo: AFP

Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Wednesday there was “too much talk” about the possibility of Britain leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement next March.

In London for talks about the political deadlock in Northern Ireland, he conceded such a no-deal scenario would be “very bad news” for both Britain and Ireland.

“There's probably too much talk of the negative consequences of a no-deal Brexit,” Coveney told reporters.

“I think a lot of people are talking up inappropriately the possibility. I don't believe it's likely, I don't think anyone wants it.”   

He added: “Clearly for Ireland, a no-deal Brexit is very bad news, clearly for Britain a no-deal Brexit is very bad news too.”   

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell also indicated that he thought talk of Britain crashing out without an agreement was premature.   

“It seems to be impossible to imagine that the European Union and the United Kingdom come one day and say 'it's a brutal divorce, everyone takes what they can'. We would all lose too much,” Borrell, a former president of the European Parliament, said.

“What is not impossible is that the deadline arrives and that there is a unanimous agreement between all EU countries to delay the date. But it will be necessary to reach an agreement,” he added.

Britain is set to leave the EU on March 29th next year.   

The two sides want to strike a withdrawal agreement including the outline of their future relationship by late October, to allow time for it to be ratified by their parliaments.

Coveney said no deal “would be a failure of politics on a very significant scale” and he does not “intend to let that happen”.   

He said the focus should be on finding solutions, not taking a “tough stance”.

“Saying 'do your worst, we can deal with a no-deal Brexit situation' isn't going to solve this problem,” he said.

The negotiations on the withdrawal agreement have been stalled in recent months on how to avoid border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain.   

Britain wants to forge its own trade policy independent of the EU, but many experts question how this can be done without a “hard” border in Ireland, the only land frontier between Britain and the bloc.

“What's going to solve this problem is trying to accommodate Britain in terms of its asks where possible, while understanding that the EU needs to protect its interests and the interests of its member states,” Coveney said.   

He held talks with British ministers on how to restore devolved government in Belfast, which has been suspended for more than a year amid a row between the power-sharing parties.

READ MORE: Brexit: 'UK nationals don't want their European dream to end in a nightmare'


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.