OPINION: If Brexit is the ‘will of the people’ then let’s test it

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain explains why Saturday October 19th, 2019 will, for a long time, be remembered as a significant day in the struggle to stop Brexit.

OPINION: If Brexit is the 'will of the people' then let's test it
Placards at the march in London on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Many British citizens from Spain joined over a million marchers at the #PeoplesVote rally: a day of solidarity, strength, good humour and determination. A day we will proudly recall, in years to come, with the words “I was there”.

For those of us fighting to stay in the EU, it will be remembered as another significant day in which the prime minister, Boris Johnson, was prevented by parliament from rushing through his damaging Brexit deal.

On Thursday October 17th, at the EU summit, Johnson unexpectedly agreed terms for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The shock of the 11th hour agreement was followed by news that parliament would vote on the deal on “Super Saturday”, with a view to leaving the EU on October 31st, should it pass. The votes were too close to call as to whether the deal would pass.

Thanks to an ingeniously simple but effective amendment by Sir Oliver Letwin, Johnson withdrew the planned vote on the deal. The Letwin amendment, described as an insurance policy to prevent a last minute “accidental” no deal, passed by a majority of 16.

The news of this monumental defeat for the government was greeted with huge cheers from the crowds in Parliament Square. With the result of this vote, and because of the Benn Act, Johnson would be forced to write to the EU requesting an extension.

Just before the deadline of 11pm, Johnson sent three letters. The first was a copy of the letter enshrined in the Benn Act, which he failed to sign. The second was a letter stating that the first letter was from parliament and not from the prime minister. The third letter stated that an extension was undesirable to both the UK and the EU and should not be granted.

The EU is expected to take some time to respond. It’s unlikely that the unsigned state of the first, and only legally significant letter, will cause any concern. An extension is coming – the only questions are:  for how long will it be and what conditions might be attached?

The government intends to bring the deal back to the House on Monday for a vote. It’s seems unlikely that the Speaker will allow such a vote, following the vote on the motion on Saturday. The Brexit bill will return for debate on Tuesday, with the prime minister aiming to rush it through parliament before the Halloween deadline. This seems highly unlikely, given the length and complexity of the bill and the arguments it will create.

Bremain in Spain has said for months that we’re not leaving the EU on October 31st, either with or without a deal.

We have suggested that Remainers put their faith in parliament and the public. On Saturday October 19th, both parliament and the people came together to show there’s still the will and the way to stop the government’s irresponsible and damaging Brexit plans.

A #FinalSay referendum has always been the best way, the democratic way, the only way to bring the country back together and to resolve this unrelenting crisis. Parliament is likely to obtain the opportunity to vote for that option in the coming days. The EU will be paying close attention and will factor the outcome re a referendum into their decision on extension length.

Make no mistake – the EU might be sick to the back teeth of Brexit, and successive British governments, but an extension is coming. The UK parliament has officially asked for an extension, even if Johnson did so grudgingly. The EU would not force any country to leave that wishes to stay. The British public wishes to stay, in increasing numbers. It’s time to ask the people.

If Brexit really is the “will of the people”, as we’ve been told repeatedly over the last three and a half years, then it’s time to put that to the test. If the government and the Brexiters are right, then what have they got to lose?

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain


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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.