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Brexit Consular workload causing Spaniards voting registration headaches
BREXIT uncertainty has created an additional problem for Spaniards living in the UK – the only two Consulates in the country are overwhelmed with work and appointments are nearly impossible to obtain.
Registering as a permanent resident, changing driving licences and other bureaucracy means getting an appointment for registering a birth or marriage, replacing a passport and registering to vote in the Spanish general elections is difficult, often given at the last minute and very strict in terms of time.
Spaniards living in Britain complain about the amount of bureaucracy they cannot do online or by post, meaning they have to visit the Consulate during working hours, taking annual leave to do so.
And it also costs them a fortune, since the only Consular offices are in London and Edinburgh, meaning very long travelling distances for many.
A pressure group in the north-west, the Marea Granate Manchester, is calling for the Consulate in Manchester which shut in 2011 to reopen.
Registering to vote in their home general elections is always a headache, they complain, since they have to do so in person at the Consulate, often do not receive their ballot papers in time, and have no guarantee that their postal vote reaches base.
This is similar to the situation denounced by Brits living in Spain, many of whom did not receive their ballot in time to vote in the Brexit referendum, or in previous UK general elections, where they are still eligible.
Anyone who has lived outside the UK for 15 years or more is barred from voting in local or general elections or in any referendum, which would include a People’s Vote or a second referendum on Brexit – a situation the Conservative government pledged to resolve in time for the 2015 UK general elections, but did not.
Annoyed Spaniards in Britain say that whilst their community – around 200,000 at present – has never ceased to grow, Consular staff numbers remain the same.
And with the extra paperwork they need to transact before Brexit, Consular employees are needed more than ever.
With the UK Parliament having voted against a no-deal Brexit and also against prime minister Theresa May’s deal – but in favour of requesting a three-month extension to Article 50, Spaniards living in the UK are now in a dilemma about what to do vis à vis the European Parliamentary elections on May 26.
Many had assumed they would be unable to vote for British MEPs, since the UK would be out of the Union by then, and registered to vote for Spanish MEPs instead.
But if Britain expects to be granted its three-month extension – which has to be approved by the whole of the remaining EU-27 – it will be required to field candidates for the European elections.
Even though Europe’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and other leaders including Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker have said they would be willing to consider an extension to Article 50, they will only do so if the British government has a clear idea of what it hopes to achieve in that time.
They are against prolonging Brexit uncertainty even further, causing huge losses for businesses on either side of the Channel and stress for residents, and are not willing to renegotiate Theresa May’s existing deal proposal.
EU leaders have said that if one particular point on which they could ‘at a push agree to’ was stopping the deal from being voted through, it would be worth providing an extension, but only until May 20, in light of the elections.
But it does not seem possible, from the EU’s point of view, for any deal proposal to get through British Parliament, since all parties are divided on whether or not Brexit should happen at all.
Pro-Brexit MPs want to cut all ties with the EU immediately, deal or no deal, whilst others want Brexit to be cancelled altogether.
And although Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has finally agreed to back a possible second referendum, this idea has also been rejected in Parliament – and is not popular in the EU, either.
They say if the result was the same or similar, it would solve nothing and simply lead to more months of member States being in limbo.
A ‘People’s Vote’ march is due to take place a week on Saturday, calling for the public to have a final say on any Brexit deal, including the option to remain in the EU on the ballot paper.
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