2019 European Parliament elections: Bishop Robert writes to UK Cabinet Minister

Bishop Robert's letter to Rt. Hon. David Lidington CBE MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, UK Cabinet Minister with overall responsibility for constitutional affairs:

5 June 2019

Dear Minister,

2019 Elections to the European Parliament in the UK

As Anglican Bishop in Europe, I take a close interest in the way in which over 3 million EU citizens are being treated and represented, particularly in the context of Brexit.  I refer both to the 2 million plus EU27 citizens resident in the UK, as well as to the estimated 1.2 million UK nationals living in the EU27.  I am seriously concerned about the UK’s conduct of the May 2019 elections to the European Parliament.   I note the UK Government did not indicate until 7 May, through your media announcement, that the UK would participate in these elections to return UK MEPs in Strasbourg. Barely two weeks away from the poll on 23 May, this must have placed the Electoral Commission and local authorities under exceptional pressure in their efforts to ensure efficient conduct of these elections.  There are two areas where significant complaints are being raised in my Diocese:

i. Denial of ability to vote in the UK

First, there are widespread and extensive complaints regarding apparent denial of voting rights in the UK.  I understand eligibility to vote by EU27 nationals in the UK at these elections depended on the completion of a particular “UC1 or EC6” form; and that local authority electoral registration officers were required by Government to complete this process.  However, very many EU27 registered electors were told they could not vote when they went to do so at local polling stations in the UK.  I was not at all aware of this registration process, and clearly, I was not alone.  At the very least, there has been a clear communications failure by the UK Government to explain these requirements to EU27 nationals. And I am at a loss to understand why Governments and electoral administrations across the other Member States did not appear to experience similar issues with voting arrangements for EU citizens, whether they come from the UK or elsewhere in the Union. 

ii. Postal ballots not arriving in time

Second, I am hearing complaints from people in my Diocese about postal ballots.  There are people who are UK registered voters fully entitled to vote with a postal ballot, whose papers did not arrive in time for the election. And I see other examples on social media of postal ballots that are arriving at their home addresses outside the UK as late as today.  This is a further unacceptable case of people being denied their right have their vote counted, and voice heard in the democratic process.

I believe there are deeper issues at stake here, in terms of the democratic rights of UK citizens in the rest of the European Union.  Many people in my Diocese believe the UK Government seems intent on disregarding this constituency as a “forgotten million”.  

It is easy to see why:  

There are over 200 Anglican congregations in my Diocese across EU Member States outside the UK. Since the 2016 referendum, I have met and heard from many who were denied a vote in that crucial poll.  Then they were denied a ballot in the 2017 UK General Election.  These latest European Parliamentary elections are now the third time they have been denied the right to vote in a UK poll.  

I should be grateful if you could clarify, as the Minister at Cabinet level with overall responsibility for UK constitutional affairs:

  • Why the UK was unable to conduct these 2019 EP elections efficiently and equitably for all EU citizens; and
  • What specific steps the UK Government will put in place take to avoid a recurrence of such large-scale disenfranchisement of EU citizens.

I should also be obliged if the Government would affirm that UK nationals living in the rest of the EU are full citizens, and as such, should be given the right to vote in elections in the UK.

I feel sure you will agree that the health of democracy depends on the ability to participate in elections; and that both complaints raised above are serious matters.

I note that VÄ•ra Jourová, the EU Commissioner for Justice and Consumers visited London on 3 June, and expressed the EU’s concerns about this matter, as have prominent UK and other EU Parliamentarians.

I have the pleasure and privilege of leading Anglicans across Europe.  Whatever Brexit may bring, I am happy to state clearly that we will remain, serving the people of Europe, as we have done for over 400 years.  In the meantime, and amid ongoing Brexit uncertainties, I urge the UK Government to respect fully the democratic rights and entitlements of EU citizens across all 28 Member States. 

I am copying this letter to Dame Caroline Spelman MP, Second Church Estates Commissioner.

+Robert Gibraltar in Europe

Cc: Dame Caroline Spelman MP