The UK and Poland have signed a treaty that secures the right of British and Polish citizens to stand and vote in local elections in each other’s countries following the UK’s exit from the EU.
The treaty signed in Warsaw on 29 May makes Poland the fourth EU country to sign a voting rights treaty with the UK, following treaties signed with Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg last year.
The UK’s Foreign Office said in a statement the deal will cover “nearly a million British and Polish citizens who live and work in each other’s countries”.
The agreement is “proof of how the Polish government is determined that the rights of Poles are not weakened after the UK exits the EU,” said Poland’s Ambassador to the UK, Arkady Rzegocki.
After the UK left the EU in January, the voting rights of EU nationals in the UK and their UK counterparts across Europe was left unclear. The London government is seeking bilateral agreements with the EU-27 on the voting rights of EU nationals in the UK and their UK counterparts in the EU, and the result is likely to be a patchwork of different national regimes.
The same is also currently true for Europeans living in the UK. The franchise for general elections and referendums in the UK is limited to citizens of the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries, while existing UK law gives EU nationals the right to vote in the London mayoral and assembly elections.
The Scottish government recently announced that all citizens from abroad will have the right to vote and stand in next year’s Scottish parliamentary elections.
However, the UK’s Cabinet Office has stated that it is “seeking reciprocal bilateral agreements to maintain this right (to vote and stand in local elections)”, prompting concerns that the government plans to amend the current law giving EU nationals the right to vote and stand in local polls.
In a statement, the campaign group New Europeans urged Boris Johnson’s government “to confirm that it will guarantee the rights of all EU citizens in the UK to stand and vote in local and regional elections, not just those who are nationals of an EU member state where a bilateral agreement is in place.”
It also called on the UK and the EU to “unilaterally guarantee the rights of #the5million so that they do not become the object of trade talks about the future relationship between the UK and the EU and/or individual member states.”
Campaign groups have urged the European Commission to take steps to make sure that the democratic rights of Britons resident in the EU are protected, and have repeatedly complained that citizens’ rights have been traded off in both the Article 50 process and the ongoing talks on a post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal.
The final round of trade talks between the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and UK counterpart David Frost, ahead of a key mid-June summit between Boris Johnson and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, will last all week.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]