Over a million EU citizens may have missed out on their right to vote in the UK's European elections this May.
A leading pro-EU campaign group is stepping up calls for a public inquiry into the #DeniedMyVote scandal, following fears that over a million EU citizens in the UK were deprived of a say in May’s European Parliament elections.
Speaking to Left Foot Forward, New Europeans (NE) CEO Roger Casale has compared the government’s attitude to the issue to the Windrush scandal – where many longstanding UK residents and Commonwealth citizens were threatened with deportation (and in many cases deported), after landing cards noting their longstanding status in the UK were destroyed.
As long ago as the 2014 European elections, New Europeans and other campaigners warned that many EU citizens in the UK were denied a vote, due to them needing to go through an ‘over complicated’ two stage process in order to cast a ballot here.
For the European elections, EU citizens in the UK must register to vote, and then submit a separate paper form stating they will only vote in the UK. In 2014, confusion and delays in the process led the Electoral Commission to pledge recommendations for how the system would be simplified and reassessed, ‘in sufficient time for any changes to legislation to be introduced ahead of the 2019 European elections.’
However, legislation was not forthcoming. In April this year, NE raised these fears again, noting the ‘UC1 form’ – which they say caused mass disenfranchisement at the European elections in 2014 – would lead to the same problems again in 2019. The concerns were ignored.
New Europeans now believe that over 1m citizens here may have been prevented from voting in the European elections, due to the government’s failure to modernise the system and properly inform EU citizens. The group called it ‘shameful’ for British democracy.
Now in an interview with Left Foot Forward, former Labour MP and CEO of New Europeans Roger Casale says the government’s handling of the affair is reminiscent of the Windrush scandal, and suggests the government may have been ‘leaned on’ not to tackle the problems.
Asked whether he thought it was a case of ‘cock-up or conspiracy’, Casale added: “Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. There were actions the government could have taken that would have stopped this happening – even though they were asked to do so.
“What I imagine is that Tories were leaned on. There‘s no obvious advantage to the government in what happened – it probably handed five or six seats to the Brexit Party.
“Maybe some didn’t want them to prepare properly for the elections. Who had an interest in them acting with such staggering complacency? Those are questions for later and for the inquiry.”
“The government stonewalled [the issue], as with Windrush. There was complacency and a total lack of understanding. Obviously being denied a vote is not same as being thrown out of the country [as with the Windrush scandal]. But the attitude by the government was the same.”
“People are looking at the UK and this is impacting our standing in the world – this is not the way to run a democracy,” Casale added. “This is something that goes well beyond rights of EU citizens abroad – this says something about our democracy. Somewhere you have to draw a line and take a stand.”
New Europeans believe the government should have informed EU citizens far earlier of their right to vote, and how to do so, Casale said. The UK’s participation in the elections was only formally announced in May – leading to anger over the lack of time available to prepare.
New Europeans are calling for a full inquiry into the #DeniedMyVote case, given what they term the ‘systematic way’ a large section of electorate were excluded from voting.
In June, dozens of MEPs called for an investigation from the Venice Commission – an advisory body of the Council of Europe, which is made up of independent experts on constitutional law. “VC investigate democratic shortfalls in places like Russia,” Casale notes.
New Europeans have also shared their findings with the constitutional affairs committee of the European Parliament, the civil liberties committee (LIBE) and the Brexit steering group, and are waiting to see how the new members will take the case forward. The constitutional affairs committee could launch an inquiry. NE have briefed new MEPs on the committee: “We’ve got the door half open and need to keep pushing.” He added it was important the inquiry is ‘dispassionate’.
The European Commission’s Justice Commission will also be reporting on the conduct of the EU elections across Europe, which campaigners hope will address the issue of EU citizens in the UK being denied their vote. There were also many reports of postal votes for Brits living abroad arriving too late for them to vote.
And ministers are facing a judicial review by campaign group 3million over the handling of the EU elections. Lawyers for the group say that the requirement to fill in the separate paper form which only assigns the right to vote for one year is discriminatory.
Over 140,000 people have now signed a petition for a full inquiry into the #DeniedMyVote scandal. New Europeans are currently crowdfunding to step up the campaign.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.
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