MPs have called on the government to cut the red tape around EU citizens’ registration for the EU elections after it was found that fewer than 300 crucial forms have been returned with 13 days before deadline.
In an urgent question raised by shadow foreign minister Catherine West in the House of Commons, MPs grilled minister without portfolio Brandon Lewis on the ‘shambles’ brought upon electoral offices nationwide by the sudden likelihood of an EU election.
To register to vote here, EU citizens must take part in a two-step process.
As well as registering online, they must fill out and return an additional ‘UC1’ form declaring that they will not vote in their country of origin and that they intend to vote here.
This must be done, by post, within the next seven days.
READ MORE: How to register to vote in the European electionsWest called the returning of the second form ‘largely superfluous’ because the process is designed to take place while other EU registers are open, to prevent people voting in both countries.
She called on the government to cut the red tape and allow local authorities to automatically register EU citizens who are already registered to vote in next week’s council elections.
The Electoral Commission had long made recommendations to simplify the process, but stated it had not developed these recommendations as the government had repeatedly stated we wouldn’t be in another EU election.
She said: ‘Under normal circumstances, had Brexit shambles not taken over, councils would have written to EU citizens in January whilst all EU registers were open to confirm the UK register in good time.
‘These unusual circumstances and the government’s complete lack of action have helped create an artificial barrier to the enfranchisement of EU citizens,’ she added.
READ MORE: Hundreds of thousands of EU citizens may be unable to vote in the European elections‘Instead, we are already hearing reports of a formal legal challenge to the UK government.
‘Yet another Brexit mistake.
‘In July 2018 the integrity of our democracy was questioned when Vote Leave were found guilty of breaking electoral law.
‘Today, our democracy faces another threat.’
Jo Platt, Labour MP for Leigh, said the ’11th-hour’ uncertainty is causing ‘havoc’.
‘With only 13 days left before the deadline, fewer than 300 forms have been returned, she said, adding:
‘Which equates to 0.015% of registered EU citizens.’
She called on the government to extend the deadline to return the forms to May 15, and to ensure electoral officers hand out the forms on May 2 during the local elections.
She also called on the government to absorb the costs of the last-minute arrangements rather than leaving local authorities to pay, and for scanned and photographed versions of the form to be accepted.
Lewis said the government has given very clear advice to EU citizens.
He laid the blame at remainers’ feet to cries of dismay from the opposition bench.
‘We wouldn’t be in this position if she and many more of her colleagues had voted [for the withdrawal agreement] on March 29 and we wouldn’t be holding these elections,’ he said.
‘It is absolutely right that we ensure that people only vote once, as is the legal requirement.’ He added that the form takes about thirty seconds to fill out and is the same as that used in the 2014 elections.