European elections: Government could face court action after hundreds of EU citizens ‘denied vote’, experts warn

'If EU citizens are being asked to fill out additional forms that UK nationals are not, that’s discrimination'

Chiara Giordano
Friday 24 May 2019 07:55
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The government could face court action after hundreds of EU citizens were turned away from polling stations and denied a vote in the European elections, experts have warned.

Reports of people turning up at their local polling station only to find their name had been crossed off the register became a common theme across the UK on Thursday.

The hashtag #DeniedMyVote began trending on Twitter as it was flooded with accounts of EU citizens being prevented from voting after confusion among election officials and administrative errors.

Some eligible voters said they were told to “vote in your own country” despite living in the UK for decades, while others described trips of hundreds of miles to ensure their ballots were counted after apparent mix-ups with postal votes.

Experts have warned the government could be at risk of being sued over the whole debacle, which they say was a “scandal we knew was coming”.

A barrister who specialises in EU law claimed there were multiple breaches of EU treaties, including Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union which states that EU nationals have “the right to vote…under the same conditions as nationals of that state [of residence].”

Anneli Howard told The Guardian: “If EU citizens are being asked to fill out additional forms that UK nationals are not, that’s discrimination.”

While Ms Howard said she did not think it was likely any judge would declare council clerical errors had made the election unsafe, she added that the treaty had “direct effect” and meant EU citizens could go straight to court.

Historian and citizen rights campaigner Tanja Bueltmann said the election was a “scandal we knew was coming”, and one Theresa May “chose not to prevent”.

One EU citizen, from France, told The Independent she arrived at her local polling station in Shifnal, Shropshire, only to see her name scratched off the register.

Helene Faure, 58, who works for the NHS and has lived in the UK since 1978, said: “They said I’m supposed to have said somewhere that I will not be voting in France.

“I think it’s completely unfair and it's misleading. It’s one way of keeping people from influencing what happens to Europeans.

“It means a lot to me. There was very little percentage difference between Brexit and non-Brexit and it brings home how every single vote is important.

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“We weren’t part of the first decision and now we are not supposed to be part of the second decision and it’s so wrong.”

The issue EU citizens faced arose from the fact that the UK’s involvement in the elections was confirmed late and that they were required to fill in a form to declare they would be voting in the UK, and not their country of birth.

Joanna Cherry, a Scottish National party MP, raised the issue in parliament as recently as Wednesday.

The day before the election, she tweeted: “Today I asked @theresa_may to make sure all #EUcitizens living in the UK can vote tomorrow by making the UC1 form available at all polling stations. As PM she could do this but she refused.”

Maike Bohn, of the 3million group, which campaigns in Britain on behalf of EU citizens, said the organisation was calling for “a full investigation of this democratic disaster that has disenfranchised many of the European citizens most affected by the outcome of these elections”.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said they “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”.

But the body said it was for the government to bring forward legislation that would make registering to vote easier in future.

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