European elections: Millions of EU citizens fear being turned away from polling booths due to red tape

Government accused of failing to make clear an additional form must be filled in – just two days before voting

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 21 May 2019 19:09
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Millions of EU citizens are demanding urgent action to stop them being turned away from polling booths at the European elections because of red tape.

The government has been accused of failing to make clear that EU nationals in this country must fill in an additional form in order to vote on Thursday.

Now a support group is calling for them to be allowed to sign a statement at the polling station – confirming their vote will only be used in the UK – to avoid being disenfranchised.

An official complaint to the Electoral Commission accuses the watchdog of having “reneged on a commitment” to avoid a repeat of the same problems at the last EU elections, five years ago.

The controversy comes as EU citizens are expected to flock to the voting booths, to make clear their anger at the handling of Brexit and the threat to their future rights in the UK.

The3million support group highlighted the case of a Dutch couple living in Theresa May’s Maidenhead constituency, who did return forms – only to be told they had not been received and they could not vote.

“It is a basic human right to vote,” the couple, who did not wish to be identified, said. “Having had no say in Brexit this vote was extremely important to us.”

More than 30 MPs from all parties – with the exception of the Conservatives – have signed a parliamentary motion demanding ministers act to rescue the situation.

Local authorities are urged to “make the additional form that EU citizens need to complete in order to declare they are not voting in another EU member state – the UC1 form – available at all polling stations on 23 May”.

Nicolas Hatton, the chief executive of the3million group, said the commission was in danger of breaching EU law requiring citizens to be informed “in good time and in an appropriate manner of the conditions and detailed arrangements for the exercise of the right to vote”.

He also protested that some councils had “failed” citizens by sending out “false advice” and sending the required extra form “too late for it to be returned on time”.

“The combined effect of the Electoral Commission’s insufficient guidance and local authorities’ inconsistency effectively undermines equal access to voting rights,” Mr Hatton said.

The commission denied that it had been late in communicating with EU citizens about the two-step process, arguing it wrote to councils as early as 4 April – before the prime minister confirmed they would go ahead.

“We advised EROs [electoral registration officers] to identify such electors and send them a declaration form.”

It said any request for a change in the process would require a change in the law and was a matter for the government.

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