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BREXIT

OPINION: The Brexit soap opera rumbles on but now you can play a part

Bremain in Spain's Sue Wilson takes a look at the latest drama in the Brexit soap opera and insists that you too, can play a part.

OPINION: The Brexit soap opera rumbles on but now you can play a part
Join Sue Wilson and Bremain in Spain as they call for a People's Vote on March 23rd. Photo: Bremain in Spain.

I hope you’ve been paying close attention to the latest developments in Westminster over the last couple of weeks. The viewing public has been gifted nightly with extended episodes of the Brexit soap opera, full of drama and surprises, betrayal and back-stabbing. All that’s missing from the end-of-season finale is a wedding and a murder! Don’t worry if you’ve missed anything – the lead characters will return this week for a repeat performance.

For those who missed last week’s momentous events, here’s a brief synopsis:

True to her word, the Prime Minister scheduled three days of debates and votes with the hope of making progress on Brexit. On Tuesday March 12th, May’s deal went back to the House of Commons for a second ‘meaningful vote’, only to suffer another spectacular defeat, although by a slightly less humiliating margin than first time round.

On Wednesday March 13th, parliament finally had a more substantial debate on ruling out a no-deal scenario. May’s motion was rather woolly, stating that while parliament could rule it out, no-deal would remain the default option if her deal wasn’t accepted. Thankfully, Labour MP Yvette Cooper ensured that parliament voted against a no-deal scenario under any circumstances, thereby providing much-needed relief for people who were losing sleep over that prospect.

The final event came on Thursday March 14th, with the promised debate and vote on asking the EU to extend Article 50. This was a government motion but May allowed a free vote to discourage resignations from Tory ministers. Eight cabinet ministers took advantage of that freedom and voted against the government, including the Brexit Secretary himself!

So, by the end-of-week finale, May’s deal had been voted down, a no-deal scenario had been ruled out, and it was confirmed that we are not leaving the EU on March 29th, whatever happens next. (I don’t like to say “I told you so” but I will anyway!)

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Reviews of the performances by the lead players were not kind – in fact, there was talk of replacing the leading lady over subsequent weeks. Furthermore, the role of Brexit Secretary has now been taken by three different players, each with fewer lines than his predecessor.

Now that the current season of ‘Brexit: the early years’ has been extended, what can we expect in the next gripping episodes? At present, the writers are keeping the script a closely-guarded secret, possibly because they haven’t decided on the plot (if there ever was one!) or the length of the season extension. Perhaps we’ll see a new hero or villain, or an Easter special set on the continent. Or, is it just a horror series from start to finish?

One special episode is due at the end of this week, involving hundreds of thousands of extras. It’s a feature-length programme from Westminster – without our leading lady – entitled the ‘Put it to the People’ march. This extra-special episode is being filmed live, includes many celebrity cameos, and could be shown around the world – such is the popularity of the Brexit soap.


Bremain in Spain will be part of the march on Westminister on Saturday. Photo: Sue Wilson/ Bremain in Spain

Be sure to put next Saturday March 23rd in your diary – 12.00 until 16.00. Better still, join the cast as an extra and march with Bremain in Spain. You know you’ve always wanted to be on the telly! With this extra special episode, you could be on all channels at once.

Lights, cameras, action!

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

 

 

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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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