Emergency Bill “may be needed” to block UK Government changing EU voting rights in Wales

(Title Image: Cyprus Mail)

External Affairs Committee
International Agreements – Reciprocal Voting Rights: Portugal & Luxembourg (pdf)
Published: 17th September 2019

Signed: 12th June 2019 (Portugal), 18th June 2019 (Luxembourg)
Ratification (under Constitutional Reform & Governance Act): Both comes into force after Brexit.

How do the deals work?

Both agreements would allow UK, Portuguese and Luxembourger nationals to vote and stand in each other’s respective local government elections. The UK Government was unable to secure reciprocal voting rights as part of EU withdrawal negotiations so UK nationals living in the EU will be reliant on the electoral rules of the respective member states. The UK Government has decided to negotiate bilateral treaties with each member state.

26,000 UK nationals live in Portugal and under the terms of the agreement in order to vote or stand in an election they’ll need a residence permit, will need to have lived in Portugal for at least three years and be on the Portuguese electoral register.

6,000 UK nationals live in Luxembourg and under the terms of that agreement, UK nationals will need to have lived in Luxembourg for at least five years, with the final year of that being uninterrupted.

There are slight differences between the two treaties regarding modification and cancellation.

What do these agreements mean for Wales?

The electorate for the Senedd is the same as that for local elections and powers relating to the electoral franchise for local and Senedd elections were devolved to Wales in 2017.

The UK Government kept the devolved administrations up to date with the treaties – and, in principle, the Welsh Government agrees with their policy position. However, the First Minister said the treaties were limiting the Senedd’s powers to legislate for the devolved electoral franchise.

The Welsh Government has asked to be fully involved in any negotiations regarding these electoral agreements so commitments aren’t made without its consent.

The Committee concluded that if, in the future, the UK Government failed to reach agreements with EU member states they may decide to unilaterally withdraw the right for the EU state’s citizens to vote in UK elections – which would encroach on devolved powers.

The Committee then suggests:

“If the Welsh Government and the Assembly wish to retain the entitlement of citizens of that country to vote in devolved elections, it may be necessary to act quickly to ensure that any changes made by the UK Government do not apply to devolved elections. That could involve using the Emergency Bill procedure set out in Assembly Standing Orders.”

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