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No Taxation without Representation: European Elections and the Right to Vote

Dr Veronika Wagner, Candidate in the 2019 Local Elections for the National Health Action Party, argues EU citizens are at risk of "taxation without representation" in the European Parliament Election. 

Like most British residents of European origin who did not hold British nationality, I was excluded from voting in the 2016 EU referendum and had no say in decisions that are shaping up to reduce our rights.

Fast forward to May 2019 and we are looking at a repeat of this political disenfranchisement, not only for EU27 citizens in UK but also for British citizens, at the European Elections on 23rd May.

As EU citizens we were able to vote in the local elections on 2nd May. We received our voting cards in time, made sure we voted and encouraged everyone else to vote. So far so good.

With the European elections announced in the UK at short notice, and taking place only three weeks after the local elections, we have seen significant delays in residents receiving their polling cards. EU27 citizens were additionally asked to complete paperwork to affirm that they would vote in the UK.

I received my polling card on 9th May. Unable to attend the polling station on election day, I had already lost the opportunity to request a postal vote. The deadline for that had been the previous day, May 8th.

In need of advice, I contacted Portsmouth Council who replied very promptly and apologetically as follows:

“Please accept my apologies for the delay in receiving your poll card. Although the poll cards were sent as soon as we could, this was later than we would ordinarily plan. The delay was caused by some issues with the availability of polling stations at short notice and production issues due to the local elections last week.

“Although the deadline for postal vote applications has now passed, it is not too late to appoint someone to vote on your behalf as proxy. Further information and the application form can be found by clicking here.

“The deadline for applications to vote by proxy is 5.00pm on Wednesday 15 May. Your proxy would need to vote at your polling station but they don’t need to be registered in the same ward or area. They would just need to be able to get to your polling station.”

This has meant that I am now scrambling around to organise a proxy vote.

Oh the irony that only last week I stood as a candidate in the local elections myself, encouraging voters to go out and vote, yet now I was faced with the possibility of not being able to cast my vote myself.

Amidst all this voting chaos, the phrase that keeps springing into my mind is ‘No Taxation without Representation’.

When British colonial settlers in America were taxed for any printed documents by the motherland but had no representatives in Parliament, protests erupted which led to the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766.

At the time, a doctrine of virtual rather than actual representation existed in British society, which meant that members of Parliament had the right to speak for the interests of all British subjects, rather than only those who elected them or they had been appointed to represent.

Politician Edmund Burke supported virtual representation, yet in a Parliamentary speech in 1774 spoke against the idea that Americans could be adequately represented in this way.

“What! does the electric force of virtual representation more easily pass over the Atlantic than pervade Wales, which lies in your neighborhood? or than Chester and Durham, surrounded by abundance of representation that is actual and palpable? But, Sir, your ancestors thought this sort of virtual representation, however ample, to be totally insufficient for the freedom of the inhabitants of territories that are so near, and comparatively so inconsiderable. How, then, can I think it sufficient for those which are infinitely greater, and infinitely more remote? You will now, Sir, perhaps imagine that I am on the point of proposing to you a scheme for a representation of the colonies in Parliament.”

Interestingly, Burke later opposed the French revolution; nowadays he is seen as one of the founders of the British Conservative tradition.

While historic comparisons are of necessity imperfect, and whilst nobody would advocate a return to the violence associated with the riots at the time, it is notable that more than two hundred years ago parliamentarians discussed ways to represent Britons abroad in Parliament.

Nowadays, we have campaign groups like British in Europe, in itself an umbrella organisation for British citizens in a variety of EU27 countries, fighting a not dissimilar campaign.

A recent report from the New European revealed that “only 0.01% of those eligible to vote from EU countries had returned an important form to confirm they only intend to vote in the United Kingdom and not their home country”.

Mike Gapes, MP for Change UK, said, “It has been apparent for some months that is (sic) was almost certain that we would be fighting the European elections, but as a result of the late confirmation, a large number of local authorities have failed to send out forms or adequately ensure that the millions of EU citizens in the UK entitled to vote will be able to vote on 23 May.”

Mr Gapes has tabled an Early Day Motion calling “on the Government to take immediate steps to ensure that all EU citizens in the UK who wish to vote in the EU elections are able to do so by making the additional form that EU citizens need to complete in order to declare they are not voting in another EU member state – the UC1 form – available at all polling stations on 23 May 2019”.

At the time of writing neither of the MPs for Portsmouth, Stephen Morgan (South) and Penny Mordaunt (North) have signed.

Here in the United Kingdom, EU27 citizens have been paying their taxes for months, years or decades, with EU- conferred voting rights in local and European Parliament elections as a matter of course. It is high time that representation in the British and European Parliaments is guaranteed beyond Brexit, and this includes receiving polling cards early enough to actually be able to vote.

Ends

Notes: 

For anyone who wishes to vote in the EU Parliament elections but is unable to get to the polling station on the day, please go to Your Vote Matters to arrange a proxy vote by Wednesday 15th May 5pm.

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