Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 July 2019

European citizens shut out as Brexit Britain votes in EU polls

Failure to do so would have risked breaching the constitution of EU institutions and causing legal mayhem

The Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage poses for photographers as he arrives to vote in the European Elections, at a polling station on May 23, 2019 in Biggin Hill, southern England. Getty Images
The Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage poses for photographers as he arrives to vote in the European Elections, at a polling station on May 23, 2019 in Biggin Hill, southern England. Getty Images

The country battling to leave the European Union was the first one to vote in its parliamentary elections as voting kicked off on Thursday amid deep political turmoil throughout national life.

After a campaign organised in haste, there was criticism of the British authorities after hundreds of EU citizens resident were turned away from polling places. Many Europeans living in Britain viewed the exercise as last chance to have their say on the prospect of Brexit.

Large numbers of EU nationals recounted on Twitter how they had arrived at polling stations to find their names had been crossed off the list of eligible voters, saying officials had failed to deal with the necessary forms in time.

"I'm an EU citizen and registered to vote in time, but apparently my form saying that I was going to vote in the UK didn't arrive before the deadline," said Ana Clara Paniago.

The UK's election watchdog said if an EU citizen wanted to vote in Britain rather than their home state, they had to transfer their right to do so 12 days ahead of the poll.

"We understand the frustration of some citizens of other EU member states, resident in the UK, who have been finding they are unable to vote today when they wish to do so," the Electoral Commission said in a statement.

Polling stations in the UK and the Netherlands opened on Thursday morning ahead of other member states, which will be voting at various times up until May 26.

Britain’s exit from the EU was initially scheduled for March 29, but the departure date has been delayed for six months, with a new date set for October 31 2019. The rejection of the divorce deal that Prime Minister Theresa May struck with Brussels meant Brexit was delayed.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip arrive at her local constituency polling station in Sonning, near Reading, southern England. Getty Images
British Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip arrive at her local constituency polling station in Sonning, near Reading, southern England. Getty Images

The European Commission insisted that the UK participated in the European Parliamentary elections so that, if it decides to revoke Brexit or hold a second referendum, it would have democratic representation in Europe.

Failure to do so would have risked breaching the constitution of EU institutions and causing legal mayhem.

The vote has seen the rise of a protest party, the Brexit which hopes like other anti-EU parties in France, Italy, Netherlands, Hungary and elsewhere to come first when the results emerge late on Sunday.

While Britain must hold elections it may end up sending MEPs that would sit in parliament only for a few weeks. The vote will be completed by May 26 and the European parliament will hold its first session on July 2. If the Withdrawal Deal is passed or Britain leaves without a deal on October 31, the parliament will be restructured in the wake of the withdrawal of the British contingent.

The European Parliament is comprised of 751 seats, of which 73 are allocated to UK MEPs. When the UK departs, it will become a 705-seat Parliament, with 27 UK seats being re-allocated to other EU nations in order to re-balance the Parliament.

Spain and France get five more seats, Italy and the Netherlands get three, Ireland two and a host of other states - Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Croatia, Sweden, Romania, Slovakia, Austria, Poland - receiving one more seat.

While British European elections could turn into a mockery of European institutions, they will be a test for new political parties and established ones.

The Conservative and Labour parties are predicted to suffer severe losses, with the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party likely to ratchet up votes. Britain's Brexit Party is on course to take more than a third of the votes.

In total, 427 million voters are expected to head to the polls as part of the European elections. On Friday, voting will take place in Ireland and the Czech Republic, while Latvia, Malta and Slovakia will vote on Saturday. The remaining EU member states will vote on Sunday.

Under a variety of national systems, voters will choose the 751 members who will sit in the twin seats of Brussels and Strasbourg for the next five years.

Updated: May 24, 2019 12:28 PM

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