In an advanced democratic nation, an election should be straightforward, yet thousands of stories are now emerging across the UK of bureaucratic failures, administrative mistakes and simple human errors leading to up to 2 million EU citizens losing their right to vote. That the government hoped these elections wouldn’t be held is no excuse for not having prepared for them properly.
Many of the issues stem from the declaration form by which non-British and non-Irish EU citizens have to confirm the country in which they will vote in the European Parliament elections. Although a theoretical requirement since 2001, the declaration has never before been required. Why? No record can be found online or elsewhere of a large-scale publicity campaign by either local or national government letting people know of the change. Why? To compound the difficulties, the deadline for submission of declarations was 7 May 2019; the same day the government confirmed that the UK would take part in the elections. There has been a clear breach of Article 12 of Council Directive 1993/109, which requires States to inform citizens in good time of the requirements necessary for them to exercise their right to vote.
Change UK is supporting calls for a public inquiry. The inquiry must establish how many EU Citizens were denied the right to vote, covering not only those who fulfilled all the requirements but those who did not get sufficient information or time to be able to do so. It must discover why warnings from MPs were ignored. And it needs to establish the councils that sent out the necessary information and declaration forms and those that did not.
The inquiry needs to establish why it was necessary to have such a long period, 12 working days, between Council receipt of the declaration and voting day. Could declarations not have been signed before voting at the polling station and then sent electronically to the EU member state of which the individual held citizenship? It needs to understand why this declaration has never been needed before and indeed why it is needed at all when, for example, it is not required of British people living in Ireland, and Irish people living in Britain. The inquiry needs to look at whether use of apps, such as those developed by the 3 million campaign, which allowed electronic signatures on the declaration were in fact banned by the Electoral Commission (EC), and if so why. And it needs to understand, if use of “Declaration via app” was banned, why the EC said voters using such apps “may be unable to vote”, rather than “will be unable to vote”?
If an administrative process can result in EU citizens losing their right to vote, the implications for the 3 million EU citizens having to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme are grave. Will the children of EU citizens be wrongly denied school places because their parents’ right to live in the UK has become a clerical error? Will NHS care be refused to people whose form wasn’t processed by the right department on time? Are we in fact seeing the latest incarnation of a hostile environment policy in the UK?
As well as the profound worries of EU citizens living in Britain, these problems give us a glimpse of the chaos that will rip through the country if civil servants, schools, the NHS, the police, ports, security services and every other part of our vast state infrastructure are made to “deliver Brexit.” Brexit is an impending crisis for the country. No Deal Brexit is simply unconscionable. The European elections are over, but the fight to save Britain from Brexit must go on.
Gavin Esler, Jan Rostowski, Carole Tongue, Annabel Mullin, Karen Newman, Nora Mulready, Jessica Simor, Haseeb Ur-Rehman, former Change UK MEP candidates for London.
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