From the moment polls opened for the European elections in the UK on 23 May, some EU citizens started to be turned away from polling stations on the grounds that they had not completed the administrative requirements necessary to allow them to exercise their right to vote.
Estimates put the numbers affected at potentially one to two million EU citizens. Britons living outside the UK were also affected as many said they hadn’t received their postal ballot forms in time to allow them to vote.
The failure was blamed on a combination of administrative errors, a lack of correct forms being sent out to voters and late registration.
The fact that the UK’s involvement in the elections was confirmed late because of the Brexit crisis was also said to have been a key factor.
The UK Electoral Commission said it would be reviewing the treatment of EU citizens in the election but veteran UK Socialist MEP Claude Moraes said more should have been done to stop it happening in the first place while his colleague Seb Dance said he was “dismayed at people being denied their vote.”
Separately, Romanian expats expressed anger at having to queue for hours at embassies and consulates across Europe to cast their ballots in the election, with some not getting to vote in the end.
Social media was flooded with videos from Romanians abroad showing queues extending for several blocks in cities including Birmingham, Amsterdam and Rome. Voters complained that waiting times were about seven hours at the Romanian consulate in Brussels, with similar reports coming in from Dublin, Geneva and Girona.
The Brussels-based group, New Europeans, which has campaigned for citizens’ rights to be honoured after the UK leaves the EU, called for a full public inquiry in order to find out “what went wrong, draw lessons for the future and hold those responsible to account.”
"The mass disenfranchisement of EU citizens in the UK and of many Britons abroad will almost certainly have had a material outcome on the election” New European's Roger Casale
Roger Casale, of New Europeans said, "EU citizens in the UK and Britons abroad were the biggest stakeholders in this election, which begs the question of why they have been prevented in this way from exercising their vote and who stood to gain from such a situation."
His group first raised the alarm in April with a letter to UK Cabinet Office minister David Lidington calling on the UK government to take “urgent remedial measures to avoid the mass disenfranchisement of EU voters.”
A cross-party group of British MPs led by Mike Gapes, of Change UK, Joanna Cherry, of the SNP, Ben Lake, of Plaid Cymru, Tom Brake, a Liberal Democrat and Tory Peter Bottomley joined the calls.
In a written parliamentary response on 9 May, UK Government minister Kevin Foster confirmed that the government would be making no changes to the existing arrangements.
Casale former UK Labour MP said, "The mass disenfranchisement of EU citizens in the UK and of many Britons abroad will almost certainly have had a material outcome on the election.”
“The party which won the most votes, the Brexit Party, is committed to taking the UK out of the European Union and ending freedom of movement. It is unlikely that the Brexit party would have won the same number of seats in the European Parliament if EU citizens and Britons in Europe had been allowed to vote."