UK could avoid EU election participation if Treaty protocol ratified 'in record time'

Written by Martin Banks on 15 March 2019 in News
News

Senior UK MEP Richard Corbett says that the UK could avoid having to participate in the European elections in May - if the extension to Article 50 is longer than three months - only via a protocol to the Treaty ratified by every other national EU parliament "in record time."

Photo Credit: Press Association


Corbett’s comments came just ahead of Thursday’s vote in the House of Commons in which MPs voted in favour of asking the EU for an Article 50 extension by 413 to 202.

Any extension will depend on the agreement of the remaining 27 Member States.

After a series of UK parliamentary defeats for the Withdrawal Agreement thrashed out between the UK and EU, it is now possible that Prime Minister Theresa May will try again to get her deal through the UK Parliament next Wednesday.


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If MPs agree on a deal, May said that her government would request a “short, technical extension” to Article 50. However, she said that without an agreed deal there would be a “much longer extension” that would require the UK to take part in European Parliament elections, adding, “I do not think that would be the right outcome.”

Speaking to this website, Corbett gave his reaction to the latest developments.

He said, “An extension beyond three months would normally require UK participation in the European Parliament elections. It is possible to avoid that, but only via a protocol to the Treaty ratified by every national parliament in record time.”

Corbett, a constitutional expert, added, “In any case, tails shouldn’t wag dogs. The issue of Brexit, with long-lasting effects, is far more important than supposed inconveniences of participating in an election."

"An election, after all, offers choices to voters. Denying them that, if in a situation where they are legally entitled to elect their representatives, would be dangerous,” he added.

“The issue of Brexit, with long-lasting effects, is far more important than the supposed inconveniences of participating in an election. An election, after all, offers choices to voters” Richard Corbett MEP

Further comment came from Conservative MEPs' leader Ashley Fox who also told this site: "There is no majority in the House of Commons for leaving with no deal and there's only one deal on the table. I believe MPs will approve the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement at the third time of asking next week ahead of the European Council meeting."

EU ELECTIONS LOOM LARGE

If May requests a three-month extension of Article 50, or longer, the European elections will take place while the UK is still an EU member and the civil rights group New Europeans has launched a campaign to make sure that the Government “does not try to wriggle out of this requirement.”

Campaigners say that a failure to hold the elections if Brexit is delayed could mean that there is no way back for the UK after the 1 July even if the Brexit process has not yet been concluded.

Commenting on the latest twists in the Brexit saga, Roger Casale, of New Europeans said, “British citizens and EU27 citizens in the UK, who choose to vote in the UK, must have representation in the European Parliament through their MEPs. The UK government seems to have as much of a blind spot when it comes to democracy in the EU as it does in relation to the importance of free movement.”

Casale, a former Labour MP, said, “You can't be a member of the single market unless you have freedom of movement and you can't be part of the democratic decision-making processes within the EU unless you have elections. It's as simple as that."

On Thursday, there were reports that if the Article 50 divorce process is extended, and the UK was still negotiating its exit from the EU in May, Britain would have no choice but to participate in the European polls.

The Electoral Commission says that legislation requiring these elections has not yet been repealed.

“I believe MPs will approve the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement at the third time of asking next week, ahead of the European Council meeting" Ashley Fox MEP

Casale said, “This is technically correct, but in reality rather misleading. As things stand, the legislation will be repealed automatically on 29 March even if the UK is still a member of the EU unless the Government acts."

Schedule 9 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 lists the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 and the European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003 among the Acts to be wholly repealed.

Unless the Government changes the specification of the exit day in Schedule 9, currently given as 29 March, the legislation will be repealed on that day, come what may, warns Casale.

He notes, “Not taking part in the European elections could mean that the UK would have to leave the EU with or without a deal if Brexit is delayed beyond 1 July.”

The new European Parliament will convene from 2 July and it is a requirement that all EU citizens are represented.

Further comment came from German Greens MEP Sven Giegold, Parliament’s rapporteur for transparency, accountability and integrity in the EU institutions.

He said, "It is good that the House of Commons has voted against a disorderly Brexit. If the UK does not want the disorderly Brexit, it has to say what an orderly Brexit should look like.”

“A postponement needs a clear vision. More time is not the key problem, but what that time is used for. We now need a clear message from Britain” Sven Giegold MEP

“A postponement needs a clear vision. More time is not the key problem, but what that time is used for. We now need a clear message from Britain. An agreement in the House of Commons nevertheless seems difficult. Theresa May seems to have lost control of her hopelessly-divided Tory party.”

Giegold went on, “If British political institutions are incapable of making decisions, it is only logical that the citizens should decide. But that is the sovereign decision of the British people themselves.”

“The EU should therefore keep the door open for a second referendum. A second referendum would be a sensible goal for such an extension,” he added.

On 23 March there will be a major demonstration in London for a People's Vote and Giegold says he will participate.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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