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BREXIT

The ‘Brexit election’: Why Britons in Europe should register for a proxy rather than postal vote

With a UK to hold the "most important election in a generation" on December 12th, Brits in the EU are being urged to register to vote. Here are your options for voting from overseas.

The 'Brexit election': Why Britons in Europe should register for a proxy rather than postal vote
Is Britain heading for a new election? Photo: AFP

The UK is just weeks away from another general election and this one might matter more than most to Britons living abroad, especially those in the EU.

The general view is that the future rights of Britons living in the EU – and indeed their futures in general – will depend on who wins the next general election.

That's because the outcome of Brexit is still undecided.

While PM Boris Johnson wants a big majority to get his Brexit deal through parliament, opposition parties like Labour and the Liberal Democrats favour a second referendum or even cancelling Brexit altogether.

So Britons living in the EU are being urged to make sure they are registered to vote, at least those who are eligible.

Tens of thousand of Brits will be denied a vote because they have lived outside the UK for over 15 years.

But many more are simply not registered to vote.

Although there an estimated 5.5 million Brits living abroad in December 2013 – including 1.2 million in the EU – there were only 26,000 registered to vote.

After a campaign by the Electoral Commission that figure had increased to 264,000 by 2016.

So what do I need to do?

The first step to voting in any election in the UK is to make sure you are on the electoral roll or register. You can normally register to vote up to 12 days before a general election, after which the register closes.

You can do that online by visiting https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

You'll need certain information like your National Insurance number and your previous address as well as your passport number. But the process only takes a few minutes.

Note you will also be expected to say when you left the UK, which is important given the 15 year rule around voting. While you might be tempted to shift the dates to be able to vote, you are warned that the information you give must be truthful.

One thing to note is that you will be registered in the constituency where you last voted (or were last registered) rather than for example your home town.

Overseas voters need to re-register on the electoral roll every year so many voters end up falling off it in between elections without realising, even though reminders are meant to be sent out.

You can contact your local electoral office to find out your status.

Proxy versus postal?

When you register as an overseas voter you will be asked whether you want to vote by proxy (in other words get someone you trust to vote for you) or by post. You can also vote in person by returning to the UK although that's unlikely to be possible for most people.

The question of proxy or post is increasingly important, as current conversations on online forums will attest.

There have been numerous problems around postal voting in recent elections not least May's European elections when scores of Brits in the EU saw their votes go uncounted.

British resident living in the EU have been warned by local councils that proxy voting would be more reliable.

“If a snap election is called, the timetable for this election will be shorter than usual. Therefore there is a risk that overseas voters will not receive their postal ballot packs with enough time to return them to us by the close of poll,” read the text of a letter sent to one British voter in France from a London council.

“We wanted to make you aware of the risks and therefore encourage you to consider arranging a proxy vote instead.”

As a result, and due to the previous unreliability of postal voting, many Britons have concluded that it's better to register for proxy vote.

What you need to be aware of for a proxy vote is that it will be cast in the last constituency you lived in, so you will need to know someone living in that constituency who is registered to vote and who is willing to cast your ballot at the correct polling station. They will be sent a card telling them where exactly they need to go.

You'll need to also make sure your proxy voter is not casting ballots for others either as one voter is only entitled to cast ballots for TWO other people.

Note that local political parties offer to organise proxy voters for you if you are struggling to find one.

Proxy vote by post

Note that if your proxy cannot get to your voting station then they can also send in the ballot by post for you, although then you are relying on the post once again.

“If your proxy cannot get to the polling station, they can apply to vote for you by post. They can apply to do this by 5pm, 11 working days before the poll. They can contact the electoral registration office for more details and to request a further application form,” reads the information from the government.

It's basically a two step process and the advice is to get in touch with your Electoral Registration Office who can help you sort this out.

To apply for a proxy vote you need to download and send in this form to your former local electoral office by either email or post.

The application must arrive six working days before the poll.

If you are registered to vote and still prefer to apply for a postal vote then you can print and fill out this form and send it to your electoral registration office. To find out more visit www.yourvotematters.co.uk

Note that your application to register for a postal vote must arrive at the electoral office 12 days before the vote and your actual ballot must arrive by polling day, which unfortunately has not always been the case.

If you have any further questions or points to make about voting from overseas please contact us at [email protected]

Member comments

  1. “Tens of thousand of Brits will be denied a vote because they have lived outside the UK for over 15 years.”
    So where’s this so called democracy the readers of the British guttersnipe press are always screaming about?

  2. Ridiculous that we, the most affected, have no vote. We have, legally, lived and worked in France (twice), Spain and Belgium (three times) and have been resident, since 1999, in France. We have long-term cartes de séjours, but still risk losing our freedom of movement within the EU.
    No idea where the two previous, illiterate, comments are coming from

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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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