Nobody expected European parliamentary elections to be held in the United Kingdom in 2019. The Brexit date, the date on which the UK was supposed to leave the European Union, was in March.
With the elections due to be held in May, it was only when the exit date was pushed back that the British government had to hurriedly prepare to hold that series of national elections.
The elections were held at the end of last month, and the political shockwaves are still being felt from the staggering results that emerged. The governing Conservative Party was pushed down to fifth place, with Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party and the hardline Remainer Liberal Democrats occupying the top two spots.
Turnout in the elections was thirty-seven per cent, up nearly one and a half percentage points on the last set of European elections in 2014. However, in the run-up to the elections, some EU citizens living in the UK reported being unable to vote in the European elections, as is their right.
In order to be eligible to vote in the UK in these elections, most EU citizens were required to have completed a UC1 form by 7 May and returned it to their local authority. This was to confirm that they would not be voting in any other state and could therefore register to vote in Britain.
However, some EU citizens reported that the UC1 form was delivered to them late, leaving them insufficient time to complete and return it, meaning that it was not processed by their local authority fast enough and their registration was not confirmed by voting day.
The Electoral Commission, which oversees election processes in the UK, blamed the “very short notice” given by the government about the UK’s participation in this year’s elections.
A Twitter campaign soon appeared, in which EU citizens living in the UK used the hashtag #DeniedMyVote to share their experiences, with many reporting similar cases of paperwork processing getting in the way of their voter registration.
Some said they had been turned away from polling stations on voting day, and others reported never having been informed about the importance of the UC1 form in the first place.
It was revealed today that the European Union itself has now become involved. EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova has written to the UK Cabinet Office to complain about the situation and request further information about what went wrong.
In her letter, she expressed concern at the reports of voters facing “a number of obstacles to participation” in the crucial European parliamentary elections. She went on to attack the efficiency of British electoral processes.
“[The UK has] the obligation to respect the right to vote of EU citizens and to take the measures necessary to ensure such voting rights can be effectively exercised,” she wrote, adding that in the 2014 elections, “the same problems were encountered by Union citizens”.
Ms Jourova pointed out that the British government had promised to address those issues before this year’s elections, but had apparently failed to do so, citing the “practical challenges” faced by UK authorities during rushed preparations for the May elections.
She added that the European Commission had received “complaints directly from citizens” about voting difficulties in the UK.
In response to the EU’s intervention, the UK Cabinet Office said: “The UK Government took all the legal steps necessary to prepare for the European Parliament elections, including putting in place all the necessary legislative and funding elements to enable Returning Officers to make their preparations.”
The official statement added that “the government’s priority was to work to leave the European Union before 23 May and so not take part in the European elections”.