UK government may face court action after EU citizens denied vote

People were reportedly turned away from European election polling booths due to admin errors

The British government is facing calls to launch an urgent investigation into the treatment of EU citizens in the European elections after many people reported being denied their democratic right to vote.

Voters across the country told of their devastation at finding their names crossed off the register due to clerical errors by local councils. Experts said the situation was a “scandal we knew was coming” and that the government may have a case to answer in court.

The affected voters said they felt they were being “silenced” as this was the only election they had a right to participate in, being ineligible to vote in the referendum or general elections.

The Labour MP David Lammy said the election system amounted to “ugly discrimination” for people who had endured “three years of being insulted, exploited and asked to apply to stay in their own homes”.

Anneli Howard, a barrister who specialises in EU law, said the government was at risk of being sued. She argued there were multiple breaches of EU treaties, including article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which states that EU nationals have “the right to vote … under the same conditions as nationals of that state [of residence]”.

“If EU citizens are being asked to fill out additional forms that UK nationals are not, that’s discrimination,” she said. The treaty had “direct effect”, meaning EU citizens could go straight to court.

While Howard said she doubted any judge would declare the election result unsafe as a result of council clerical errors, the principle of the issue could be established because individuals had the right to sue for compensation.

Claude Moraes, the Labour MEP for London and chair of the justice committee at the European Parliament, was due to write to the home secretary, Sajid Javid, on Thursday evening about the “depressing” and “extraordinary disenfranchisement” of voters on an important election for EU citizens.

“The government knew that this was a very sensitive election for them [EU citizens],” said Moraes. “They didn’t have their say in the referendum, they weren’t allowed to vote in the general election, and they would have wanted to vote in huge numbers for this election.

“They knew all of this, and they should have put in special measures to ensure they could have been registered in time, with extra money for local councils and promotions to tell them what to do.”

Moraes said he wanted a “full inquiry into what went wrong” to be conducted swiftly.

Tanja Bueltmann, a historian and prominent citizens rights campaigner, said the election was a scandal that Theresa May “chose not to prevent” despite having been warned several times in the last month about the extra forms EU citizens were being required to submit in order to qualify to vote.

That, she said, “is the worst thing about it all”.

The Electoral Commission said it would be reviewing the treatment of EU citizens in the election, but Moraes said they should have done more to avert the scandal.

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