Politics

Campaigners set to take government to court over EU citizens denied a vote

the3million hope the judicial hearing will go their way and set a precedent which thousands of EU citizens can "use as a shield" as Brexit talks barrel on

Campaigning group the3million is on a mission to raise £60k in order to have a court rule against what the group claims was discrimination against EU citizens by the government.

The activists – named Big Issue Changemakers this year – say more than one million EU migrants were denied a vote in last year’s May 5 EU Parliament election. The money they hope to raise will cover the legal expertise they need for the full judicial hearing of their case against the government, despite ministers denying any wrongdoing.

It was suggested last year that only one in ten EU nationals were able to cast their vote after thousands reported being turned away at the ballots.

The3million co-founder Maike Bohn told The Big Issue that the error was born out of “negligence and incompetence not malice” but had left EU citizens frustrated.

In January the High Court gave the3million permission to proceed with their case, citing clear public interest in the outcome – which could set a major precedent in law for the rights of EU citizens in the UK.

A special report from the Electoral Commission found that some EU citizens living in the UK had been unable to vote, saying it was “unacceptable that people eligible to vote should be frustrated from doing so”, though it also said it wasn’t possible to verify how many people had been impacted by the issues.

The report concluded that EU citizens had not been made aware of the need to complete an additional declaration as well as an application to register to vote; that they hadn’t been able to submit a declaration in time before the deadline set in law; and that many thought they had submitted one in time yet were still not included on the electoral register and found they were unable to vote when they turned up at their local polling station.

The government denies all claims of discrimination against EU citizens in the election.

John Halford, solicitor for the3million, said: “The #DeniedMyVote test case asks the High Court to rule that last year’s disenfranchisement was unlawful and establish a precedent that discrimination against EU nationals as a group is as unlawful as it is unacceptable in a democracy.”

The group’s crowdfunder has raised nearly £15,000 so far with 23 days left of the campaign. They said that the Covid-19 crisis highlighted how important it is for all citizens to see their fundamental rights upheld, including the right to vote for the government they think will best protect them in emergencies.

The argument that ‘you don’t really belong here’ is the underlying issue

And as the UK government rejects calls to back an extension to the Brexit deal negotiations deadline – currently set for the end of December – the campaigners say a court ruling in their favour would set a precedent that EU citizens could “use as a shield as the Brexit process continue”.

“The argument that ‘you don’t really belong here’ is the underlying issue in terms of this neglect,” Bohn said. “We live here and work here, we are not guests. This is why we’re pushing this to say it’s so important that as many as people as possible vote and think about the future and shape the future.”

Following the allegedly botched election, immigration minister Kevin Foster insisted that the government took “all legal steps necessary” to exercise EU citizens’ rights to vote.

The issue affected Big Issue vendors too. Horst Liedtke, originally from Germany, has lived in the Birmingham area for 28 years but found himself affected by the problems and said he felt it made EU nationals out to be “second-class citizens”.

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