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BREXIT

Spain takes over EU anti-piracy mission from Britain due to Brexit

Spain on Friday took over from Britain command of a European Union maritime mission that combats piracy off the coast of Somalia as Britain's planned departure from the bloc nears.

Spain takes over EU anti-piracy mission from Britain due to Brexit
The ceremony took place in Rota on Friday. Photo: EU NAVFOR

Spanish vice admiral Antonio Martorell relieved British major general Charlie Strickland as commander of the so-called “Operation Atalanta” during a solemn ceremony held at the Rota naval base in southern Spain, where US troop are also stationed.

The ceremony was held on the day Britain was originally set to leave the European Union. British lawmakers voted down an unpopular divorce deal for a third time on Friday.

“It is honestly a sad day for the UK …but it is an exciting day for Spain,” Strickland said during the ceremony.

“Atalanta is so much more than ships in the Indian Ocean and aircrafts in the skies. Atalanta is a sophisticated multilayered operation using hard and soft power to continue to suppress piracy and to take a powerful role in the broader security architecture of this key region of the world.”

The European Council announced in July that it would transfer the headquarters of Atalanta which employs 101 people from Northwood outside of London to Rota.

The operation's headquarters is just one of the European institutions which Britain is losing as a result of its impending EU exit.   

The European Medicines Agency moved to Amsterdam hile the European Banking Authority was relocated to Paris.   

While Spain took over the Atalanta's command centre, France's historic naval base in Brest on the tip of Brittany won the Maritime Security Centre of Africa which was also based in Northwood.

The EU launched Atalanta in 2008 to fight brazen acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia, including the spectacular hijacking of a Spanish tuna boat in 2009.

The number of attacks off the coast of Somalia in the Indian Ocean has fallen from a peak of 176 in 2011 to just two in 2018, according to Atalanta.   

The European Union has extended Operation Atalanta to 2020 and gave it a budget of 12 million euros for 2019 and 2020.   

Italy had also sought to win the headquarters of Atalanta. It had proposed that it be moved to a base in Rome which already holds the headquarters of Operation Sophia against smugglers of migrants in the central Mediterranean.

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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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