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BREXIT

Britain and EU reach new Brexit deal

The UK and EU announced on Thursday morning that they have agreed on a new deal for Britain's exit from the EU and both sides hope to ratify that deal by October 31st.

Britain and EU reach new Brexit deal
Jean-Claude Juncker and Boris Johnson. Photo: AFP

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker described the deal as a “fair and balanced agreement for the EU and UK” while British prime minister Boris Johnson described it as a “great new deal”.

 

The agreement follows days of tense last-minute negotiations focusing on arrangements for Northern Ireland and the Irish border. 

While Britain's exit from the EU on October 31st with a deal now looks a lot more likely there are still some hurdles to overcome – the European Council has to endorse the deal and British MPs have to approve it, which proved the sticking point for previous Prime Minister Theresa May.

The British parliament is expected to sit on Saturday when MPs will debate the bill. The House of Commons has three times refused to pass Theresa May's largely similar deal, and Boris Johnson's Conservative party does not have a parliamentary majority.

However he is hoping that changes to the deal around the contentious issue of the Irish backstop will be enough to persuade a majority of MPs to back the deal. He has apparently told European leaders that he is “optimistic” that he will be able to get the deal passed by parliament.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland will lose its veto on whether the new arrangements in Ireland will come in to force.

 

The new deal has changes to the Irish border arrangements and VAT, but on questions of citizens rights for UK nationals living in Europe it is largely the same as Theresa May's deal.

A deal would also mean a transition period until at least December 31st 2020, during which all current rights such as freedom of movement would continue.

The transition period was originally intended as a two-year period during which the UK could begin negotiations on future deals, however repeated Brexit delays means that the current transition period is 14 months.

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has today said that it would be possible to extend this until October 2021 if both parties agree.

He told a press conference that “citizens have always been, and will remain, the EU’s priority”.

Uncertainty for them has been going on for too long, he added.

French president Emmanuel Macron, speaking as he arrived in Brussels for the European Council meeting, said he was “optimistic” about the deal.

He told reporters: “This agreement makes it possible, I believe, to address the political and technical concerns that were both our own and those of the British.

“We will meet this afternoon. There will then be elements of ratification to be taken to the British and European Parliaments, and it is at that time that this agreement can be finalised. But at this stage we can only be satisfied.”

He refused to be drawn on the likelihood of the deal passing through the British parliament.

 

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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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