Portuguese citizens in the UK and Britons in Portugal will continue to participate in local elections, voting and standing as candidates, even after the UK leaves the European Union.
The UK and the Portuguese governments have signed a bilateral treaty guaranteeing that current voting rights will be protected on a reciprocal basis. The agreement also ensures that Portuguese citizens recently elected in the UK and Britons elected in Portugal will be able to complete their mandate regardless of Brexit.
The deal was signed on Wednesday in Lisbon by UK Brexit Minister Lord Callanan and Portugal’s Secretary of State Ana Paula Zacarias.
“We welcome this significant treaty that reaffirms the importance of the relationship between the UK and Portugal, underlines our shared commitment to democracy, and most importantly enables these citizens to continue to determine who represents them in the country they reside in,” says an official statement.
“The oldest diplomatic agreement was signed between the UK and Portugal in 1386, now, over 600 years later, we’ve signed a treaty to secure the rights of our citizens in each other’s countries after the UK leaves the EU,” Lord Callanan said.
Portuguese Minister of Internal Affairs Eduardo Cabrita stressed that the rights are guaranteed under the principle of reciprocity and that the agreement “can be reviewed” by both parties at any time.
The Portuguese government “has done everything” to preserve the residence rights, access to healthcare, driving licenses and professional qualifications of British in Portugal, said the minister, and the agreement on political rights is “another step towards the deepening of these relations”.
The minister also said that British citizens represent the largest EU community in the regions of Algarve and Lisbon, with some 40,000 residents, and there are elected officials in both countries.
Voting rights in municipal elections are guaranteed to all EU nationals who live in another country of the European Union. But they have not been secured in the draft Brexit agreement because political rights derive from EU citizenship and British nationals will no longer be considered EU citizens after Brexit.
The British government, however, vowed to preserve these rights negotiating separate bilateral deals with EU countries. “We are approaching all EU member states on this subject,” says a government statement.
A similar agreement has already been signed between the UK and Spain, where British residents also represent the largest EU community.
The UK has recently been criticized on how it handled the vote of EU nationals living in the UK during the recent election of the European parliament. Citizens’ rights groups also launched a campaign calling for voting rights in national elections too.
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