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BREXIT

OPINION: Brexit month is finally here – or is it?

Sue Wilson, chair of Bremain in Spain, reckons that Brexit could be further away than at any time during the last 18 months.

OPINION: Brexit month is finally here – or is it?
Photo: BrianAJackson/Depositphotos

Whether you’re excited or terrified about the prospect of looming Brexit day, recent developments may have led you to question whether it will happen, as scheduled, on March 29th.

Over the last few months, Prime Minister Theresa May has remained adamant that the UK is leaving on the stated date, even if that means leaving without a deal. In fact, she has reminded us that she intends to remove the United Kingdom from the European Union on March 29th over 100 times, with an increasingly insistent tone.

In the last few days, the tone of the rhetoric has noticeably softened. No longer are we “definitely” leaving this month – instead, there’s talk of the government ‘aiming’ to leave on March 29th, and it still being possible to do so.

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Inevitably, any talk of moving the goalposts with the exit date leads to discussions of a delay and extension to Article 50.

May is now openly discussing the possibility of an extension, although her preference is for just two months. As has frequently been the case with Brexit, May has misjudged her authority – any decision on the length of an extension will not be hers to make.

The EU favours a longer extension period: in fact, up to two years.  According to Michel Barnier, the EU might consider a “technical extension” – however, only if May’s deal is passed by parliament, and solely for ensuring that the necessary legislation is passed.

The EU proposal seems to be to remain in the EU for what would have been the transition period, while simultaneously being able to start discussions on future trading arrangements. This would allow time for a rethink and, perhaps, a softening of May’s red lines, should her deal fail to be accepted by parliament on March 12th when it returns to the House of Commons for the ‘meaningful vote’ mark II.

Speculation exists about the likelihood of parliament supporting the Withdrawal Agreement or – more likely – not. The European Research Group, headed by Jacob Rees-Mogg, has produced a set of three demands which must be met to gain its support. It seems unlikely that the ERG will receive the concessions it seeks around the backstop. The latest rumours from Westminster claim that May and her team are already planning for the ‘meaningful vote’ mark III. Surely, at some point soon, parliament will call a halt to the government’s shenanigans.

If May’s deal is defeated again in the House of Commons, she has already committed to giving parliament a March 13 vote on whether the government should proceed without a deal at all – the no-deal scenario feared by all but extreme Brexiters. May has, thus far, refused to say how she would vote or, indeed, whether the government would adopt a ‘no deal’ policy. This would be a day on which many Tory ministers, including several in May’s cabinet, would be likely to resign.

Part three of May’s proposal was that should parliament vote against her deal on March 12th, then against no deal on March 13th, another debate and vote would follow on March 14th.

This time, parliament would decide what happens next. With only two weeks to go, the expectation is that parliament would vote to demand May asks the EU to extend Article 50.

Amid the parliamentary activities of which we are already aware, it’s safe to say that more shocks and surprises are to come. Whether its further amendments that affect the direction of Brexit, or parliament attempting to wrest control from the executive by other means, the exact scenario is impossible to predict.

I’ll stick my neck out and say that, on March 30th, we’ll still be members of the European Union, enjoying all the rights and privileges associated with membership.

While many people will be asking “are we nearly there yet?”, I shall be celebrating the fact that Brexit could be further away than at any time during the last 18 months.

With a postponement, anything is possible – including no Brexit at all.

The sooner we can make no Brexit a reality, the happier I will be. I’d rather like to start enjoying my retirement!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain, a member of the British in Europe coalition.

Member comments

  1. Couldnt agree with you more Sue. The sooner these clowns in govt (and their monumental brexit mistake) are consigned to the basura of history the better.

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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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