JOHN HALFORD: Still fighting for our vote
PUBLISHED: 11:27 01 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:43 01 August 2019
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European citizens in the UK who claim they were denied a vote in the recent elections have not given up their fight. Lawyer John Halford explains what happens next.
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But does this really matter now? We have a new prime minister committed to a "do or die" Brexit policy. May's 2019 European elections could be the UK's last. Aren't they now old news?
The answer should be a loud and emphatic 'no'. The campaigning group for EU27 citizens in the UK - the3million - is determined to make sure that the government does the right thing: accept EU citizens were unlawfully disenfranchised and set out proposals to make amends. Unless it does so, then ministers will face legal action from the group.
So far, all we have had it bluff and bluster. When questioned about the issue in parliament on June 4, cabinet minister Kevin Foster claimed that the government had to create its now notorious UC1/EC6 declaration form - the complex system which caught out so many people and cost them their vote - in order to comply with EU double-voting prevention rules. In other words, any European citizen disenfranchisement there might have been was all the fault of pesky EU bureaucrats.
This should immediately ring alarm bells for any democrat. It is also complete rubbish. Of the EU's 28 states, only the UK expects resident EU citizens not only to register to vote, but to know about, obtain, complete and ensure their local authority processes a special declaration form before their votes can be counted.
Only the UK demands that this happens before each European parliament election. Worse still, only the UK automatically disenfranchises all EU citizens who fail to complete this process by a deadline that falls 12 working days before polls open (except for Irish, Maltese and Cypriot nationals who, inexplicably, are exempted).
Many may think such a system surprising in a modern democracy. The government should not be surprised. It was warned the system produced disenfranchisement by the Electoral and European Commissions in 2014 and again by the Law Commission in 2016. It promised to change the law, but then reneged on that promise.
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Many are likely to be shocked at the system's effects. In the 'best' UK local authorities identified to date by the3million's research, well over half of EU citizens who were registered to vote were automatically struck off the electoral roll just before the May 23 poll.
In the worst authorities, 90% were struck off. Of course, some of these people may not have wanted to vote, but many did. Even those who submitted declaration forms late and then tried in vain to vote run into the thousands.
If the system had not been bad enough already, it was made far worse in this particular European election by the government maintaining that the UK would not be participating until May 7 - the very same day as that on which EU citizens had to complete the declaration form process.
All of this made for a democratic train wreck the government would rather forget about. It has already emphatically refused to commission a public inquiry into what went wrong.
Fortunately, the3million has stepped up to prevent this evasion of responsibility. If the government maintains its position, and if the3million's crowdfunding appeal to bring a judicial review succeeds, it will ask the High Court to rule there has been a systemic, discriminatory and large-scale rights breach. It will be the first case of its kind in the UK.
That ruling cannot change the results of the polls in the UK, but it would show that voting rights matter and cannot be taken away unlawfully without consequences.
Public support for the3million's test case will also show that we remain a nation that cares about the principle of a universal franchise and that, when our fellow citizens are stripped of their rights because they happen to be in a minority group, our own loud, emphatic 'no' will be heard along with theirs.
John Halford is a solicitor at Bindmans LLP representing the3million. To support the test case, go to crowdjustice.com/case/denied
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The New European is proud of its journalism and we hope you are proud of it too. We believe our voice is important - both in representing the pro-EU perspective and also to help rebalance the right wing extremes of much of the UK national press. If you value what we are doing, you can help us by making a contribution to the cost of our journalism.