Politics

EU nationals missing out on election vote left 'voiceless'

The3million co-founder Maike Bohn warns of “massive disenfranchisement” as it emerges one in 10 EU citizens were unable to cast their vote in last month’s EU elections

Young voters

EU nationals are becoming a “voiceless minority” in the UK, warns the co-founder of a campaign group fighting for their rights as it was revealed only one in 10 were able to cast their vote in some areas during May’s elections.

The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the return rate for the UC1 form – which was required to be completed by May 10 in order to vote in the May 23 elections – sat at just 21 per cent across Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and seven London boroughs. That number slumped to 10.5 per cent for England’s second city while the highest rate, out of 50 councils, was recorded in Kingston upon Thames with 43 per cent.

The outrage among EU citizens inspired the #deniedmyvotecampaign on Twitter as thousands of people reported being turned away from polling stations or not receiving a report at all.

And that anger has spilled over to a Change.org petition, set up by New Europeans chief Roger Casale, calling for a public inquiry into the matter, which has attracted more than 132,000 signatures in just over a week.

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

“People are very upset because they felt like they could steer this a bit – it’s very important to us what shape Europe takes because we want Europe to stay free and open so it matters who decides our fate in Brussels,” she said. “We’re incredibly affected by the EU, it really matters.

“The argument that “you don’t really belong here” is the underlying issue in terms of this neglect. I think this is neglect and incompetence not malice. But this is the attitude that we are trying to change. 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.”

The campaign group is now sifting through 700 cases to explore a potential lawsuit against the UK government for their handling of the vote.

Birmingham Big Issue vendor Horst Liedtke, originally from Germany, was one of the people caught up in the row and insisted that it was “important for me to vote to show the politicians what I think of them”.

Maike, who is originally from Germany but has lived in the UK for 28 years, insists that the anger comes from a feeling of being “second-class citizens”.

“I definitely think that people have realised that if you don’t vote things can take a turn for the worse in your future,” she said. “Before that, politics in this country were always a bit faceless: one week the Tories are in, then it’s Labour but it really evens out and common sense prevails – that’s really changed.

“Now we see a form of identity politics that I think is very dangerous.

“I hear people say that immigrants need to integrate but what more integration can you hope for than going to the polling station? That shows you’re integrated in something. I think we are treated as second-class citizens – EU citizens are the latest to experience this after the Windrush generation and non-EU immigrants.”

Junior Cabinet Minister Kevin Foster insisted that the government took “all legal steps necessary” to exercise EU citizens’ rights to vote in a response to an urgent question in parliament yesterday and indicated that they will engage with the issue following the outcome of an Electoral Commission report into the election.

Read more on how to turn anger into action in this week’s Big Issue magazine, available now from a vendor and The Big Issue Shop.

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