Brexit vote: ‘It’s now time to take the rights of Britons off the negotiating table’

The UK parliament rejected Theresa May's Brexit deal again on Tuesday. Rights groups, as well as political and business leaders in the EU, reacted with dismay and a sense of resignation.

Brexit vote: 'It's now time to take the rights of Britons off the negotiating table'
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaking to the house after losing the second meaningful vote on the government's Brexit deal, in the House of Commons in London on March 12, 2019. Photo: AFP/PRU.

Theresa May's eleventh-hour trip to Strasbourg to get last minute assurances from EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker meant little to British MPs who overwhelmingly rejected her deal once again.

A majority of 149 MPs rejected the terms of the withdrawal agreement she had negotiated with Brussels.

A subsequent vote on whether the UK should leave the EU without a deal is now scheduled for Wednesday March 13th. If MPs take a no-deal off the table, another vote on an extension to Article 50 will be held on Thursday March 14th. 

Rights of UKinEU and EUinUK in peril

After the vote citizens rights activists were left feeling more insecure about their futures than ever.

“Tonight we've taken a step even further into uncertainty on our rights. Everyone needs to remember that a vote tomorrow against a no deal doesn't actually stop a no deal exit – only an approved withdrawal agreement or revocation of Article 50 can do that,” Kalba Meadows, coordinator of rights advocacy group Remain in France Together, (RIFT) told The Local.

“So more than ever we need the European Council to ring fence our rights – the risks are very high. And an extension doesn't remove those risks – the same choices between deal, no deal and revocation still exist, whenever a new Article 50 date is. The 5 million Brits in the EU and EU citizens in the UK have spent nearly 3 years in limbo, and we're suffering. Only ring-fencing can give us the security we need right now,” adds Meadows.

Jane Golding chair of British in Europe echoed the call to immediately ring-fence the rights of Britons in the EU.

“This vote result is no surprise. But there are only 17 days to go until 29 March and people still don’t know what their status will be, whether they will be able to travel and re-enter the countries where they live, what will happen if they are applying for jobs, or to their pension contributions and healthcare if they are pensioners,” she told The Local.

“No deal is a disaster which is why once again we call on the EU and the UK to ringfence the citizens' rights part of the withdrawal agreement now, before it's too late to take real people's lives' off the negotiating table’.  It’s about our fundamental rights and the promises that were made to us,” she said.

European political and business leaders reacted with dismay and disappointment to the vote. 

The French president said he “regretted” the vote by the British parliament.

“The solution to this impasse can only be found in London,” read a statement from the Elysée.

“Gordian Brexit node remains unresolved”

“The decision of the British House of Commons is a bitter disappointment from an economic point of view. The danger of unregulated withdrawal from the EU and the associated economic and legal uncertainty continues to hover over the economy. In addition to significant new Brexit bureaucracy, the demolition of supply chains and a breakdown of “just-in-time” productions in the UK are threatening,” Eric Schweitzer, president of the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said in a statement.

In addition, more than 10 million customs declarations and several billion euros in customs duties would be due annually for German companies. The companies still have no planning certainty in the UK business. Therefore, companies should prepare now at the latest on the basis of the DIHK Brexit checklist. Unfortunately, the Gordian Brexit node remains unresolved,” added Schweitzer.

“The EU has done everything it can to help get the Withdrawal Agreement over the line. The impasse can only be solved in the #UK. Our “no-deal” preparations are now more important than ever before,” tweeted the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

His thoughts we echoed by MPs and leaders in Spain, France, Sweden and Germany.

It now remains to be seen if the UK parliament will opt for an extension to Article 50 and if the EU would even grant one. The next EU Council summit on March 21st-22nd could be when we find out. 

READ MORE: RECAP: 'We've taken a step further into uncertainty on our rights': UK nationals in EU react to May's defeat


Member comments

  1. Theresa May MUST have been a paid sock-puppet of the nihilst fake-“Libertarian” billianaires, Russian Mafia and other Gleeful Destroyers — from day one. No one could have been as STAGGERINGLY incompetent as she (and her fellow Professional Thief Tory accomplices) have been. That feigned “incompetence” can only be explained as her and her Overlords’ deliberate effort to wreck Britain, so that THEY can “pick up the pieces” . . . for a song.

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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.