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Hard Brexit may prevent Italians in the UK from voting at EU elections

In case of ‘hard Brexit’, Italians living in the United Kingdom might be not in the position of attending the next European elections unless they decide to come back home to vote.

In London the House of Commons is called to vote on Tuesday (15 January) the draft of withdrawal agreement reached at the end of 2018 by the UK and the EU. The expected rejection of the deal opens the way for a no-deal, or hard Brexit. This entails many question marks for the EU.

The first immediate consequence of Brexit is the ‘status’ of the UK, which turns from a EU member to an extra-community country. According to the Italian legislation, Italians living abroad are allowed to vote per the European elections only if they live in one of the other EU member states. With a hard Brexit, Italians would find themselves out of the EU territory and, as a logic result of that, automatically excluded from the right to vote at the EU elections. The peculiarities of the Italian system have been already described on this blog.

There are nearly 700,000 Italians living in the United Kingdom, according to the figures cited by the Consul General in London last summer. Only a part of them are regularly registered on the special Italian Registry for Residents Abroad (AIRE), compulsory requirement to can vote outside the homeland. According to the latest official figures, 301,439 Italians were AIRE-registered in the United Kingdom in 2018, but in the meanwhile new citizens may have added their name to the list.

The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, made clear that for EU citizens regularly registered in the country before the day of Brexit – foreseen for 29 March – nothing will happen in terms of social rights. This has prompted them to declare their presence on UK territory in order to benefit of the national welfare and healthcare system and avoid bad surprises.

This doesn’t change the situation when it comes to elections for Italians in the UK. A written question was sent to the minister for Foreign Affairs, Paolo Moavero Milanesi, by three members of the Italian Parliament from the Democratic Party (PD), to ask for extraordinary measures against extraordinary situations.

Massimo Ungaro, Angela Schirò e Nicola Carè urged the government to “take steps to provide for transitional forms for setting up polling stations” in order to “allow and to favor the participation of Italians resident in Great Britain by voting”.

The government replied that nothing is foreseen at this stage, so the Italians who are in the United Kingdom and want to vote for the next European elections will be obliged to fly back home in case of a no-deal scenario.

“Italian voters residing in countries outside the European Union can currently vote exclusively in Italy”, the undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Ricardo Antonio Merlo, replied. Any change of the legislation, even temporary, is not foreseen by the government contract stipulated between The League and the Five Star Movement. So, the rules in force will apply.

“According to current legislation, there are no initiatives to adopt transitional forms of setting up polling stations for residents of countries outside the European Union”, carried on Merlo, sitting into the government as independent. “The Foreign Ministry is obviously available to implement any regulatory changes to the law in force, based on the decisions that will be taken in Parliament”. But no decision has been taken, so far.

Italian authorities prefer to wait for what will happen tomorrow in London. If Westminster will endorse the withdrawal agreement as struck by Theresa May, the problem for the Italian voters will be over. Otherwise something will have to be put in place to allow Italians to vote next May. The third and last options is to come back home for a while. Would it be fair? It will be not cheap, that’s for sure.

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