Large British expat communities no longer have any say in how local affairs are run
By Bejay Browne
British permanent residents living in Cyprus have now officially lost the right to vote in local elections, while those sitting on local councils have been told to vacate their posts.
Most had expected the move as yet another result of Brexit which turned British expats into third country nationals, but this has done little to assuage the anger and disappointment felt by thousands as they received official letters in recent weeks asking them to return their voting booklets.
“You are a holder of an EU voting card as a British citizen residing in the Republic of Cyprus,” the letter reads. “According to the decision of the Council of Ministers, British nationals are now third-country nationals and cannot retain their voting rights in the Republic. Therefore your name will be deleted from the electoral roll and your voting card will be cancelled. You are kindly asked to visit one of the following points to return the voting card that you have in your possession.”
Many are refusing to return their voting cards, instead holding on to them in the hope that something may be done, but the letter is just a formality. British residents have already been removed from the register, the Paphos district office confirmed.
“We had directions from the Ministry of the Interior tied up with Brexit and following consultations with the legal services and the ministry of foreign affairs, a procedure is automatically being followed and British residents in Cyprus have already been deleted from the register,” Mary Lambrou informed the Sunday Mail this week.
In addition British residents may no longer carry out duties as council members and the district office has now “informed the community leaders that they may not invite these members to sit on the council any longer”, she said.
“This is disgusting. We have lived here for years, paid our taxes and are permanent residents. What do they mean by third country nationals as if some people are not welcome here? Something must be done, it’s against our human rights and Cypriots can vote in elections in England,” an outraged resident said.
The British High Commission told the Cyprus Mail it was aware of the letters being sent out stating that in line with local law, UK nationals as third country nationals no longer carry voting rights for local and European elections. Even before Brexit, only Cypriot citizens could vote in presidential and parliamentary elections.
The loss of voting rights in European elections was obviously a given as part of Brexit, but there had been hopes permanent residents would still be able to vote in local elections.
“We appreciate that many UK nationals who have chosen to make Cyprus their home, will be disappointed by this decision,” a spokesman for the British High Commission told the newspaper.
He clarified that voting rights for UK nationals was not a matter covered in the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement but was fully dependent on the electoral rules of each member state.
“While the British High Commission has regularly raised the issue of voting and candidacy rights for UK nationals, including at ministerial level, the Cyprus constitution does not provide for voting rights for third-country nationals,” he said.
Despite there being an EU Council Directive (2003/109/EC, 25.11.2003), concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents, Peyia councillor Linda Leblanc, a naturalised Cypriot herself, said that Cyprus never adopted it.
Notably, it states that the legal status of third-country nationals should be “approximated to that of member states’ nationals and that a person who has resided legally in a member state … and who holds a long-term residence permit should be granted in that member state a set of uniform rights which are as near as possible to those enjoyed by citizens of the European Union.”
“It makes a difference to have rights and to be a part of the electoral process in our communities,” said Leblanc.
Post-Brexit, UK expats registered with the immigration department is estimated to be around 60,000. Combined with other third-country nationals, such as Canadians, Americans, Chinese, Russians and so on, this could be a political game-changer if voting rights were given, even if only for local elections, she said.
Leblanc noted that as 14 EU countries have found a way to retain voting rights for UK expats following Brexit, why has Cyprus not done so?
“The government should answers questions on this,” she said. “What are the reasons they have neglected to implement this Council Directive, denying permanent residents their basic democratic rights? The government here has apparently chosen to continue to discriminate against third-country nationals, legal permanent residents, taxpayers,” she said.
Tala in Paphos is home to a large expat population and sitting councillor and British permanent resident, Cathi Delaney, is about to be removed from her postilion after 10 years, the community leader, Areti Pieridou, confirmed.
“Someone from the district office came last Thursday and informed me that I am not allowed to let Cathi sit on the council any longer,” she said. “This is very unfair as Cathi is a good councillor and a friend and we have worked together for ten years. It is very disappointing and will mean that now, 50 per cent of residents in Tala are not represented and can’t participate in administrative procedures which is wrong.”
British residents will be left with no-one to turn to for assistance or guidance, said Delaney, adding that she spent about 50 hours a week, all unpaid, trying to keep residents informed.
“Anyone who is a permanent resident of Cyprus and a property owner should be allowed a vote in local elections, we all pay our rates and should have a say in how that money is spent,” she said. “It is not only unjust to remove the vote from the UK expats, but all third country nationals who are permanent property-owning residents should also have a vote.”
The bitter irony is that Cypriots living in the UK can vote in all elections held there.
There are three expat residents sitting on community councils in the Paphos district; Tala and Kato and Pano Akourdalia, according to Lambrou, as well a few in other districts.
Nicola Wilkinson lives in Vasa Kellakiou in Limassol and moved to Cyprus almost 15 years ago. She was elected on to the council just over ten years ago but since January 28 is no longer permitted to be a member of the council
“We’ve lost all of our rights and there are upgrading projects that I wanted to see through, but now I am not allowed. We are a very small village, around 80 to 100 residents and I was an active member of the council,” she said.
The icing on the cake was the letter she received this week saying she could no longer even vote.
“Our thoughts will no longer be taken into consideration. Nobody will take any notice of us or our opinions. We are diverse here and live as a community together and not ‘split,’ this goes against everything we want,” she said.
Many residents are asking what action, if any, can be taken to try to claw back these lost rights.
Officials, including Leblanc, suggest contacting MPs, the interior minister and even the president to ask for support for democratic rights for all legal permanent residents, especially in consideration of the EU directive and what other EU countries have done to navigate the matter.
The Ombudsman could also be requested to investigate the failure of Cyprus in this regard.
“This was done many years ago by my husband and the Ombudsman report supported the democratic rights of third-country nationals, recommending implementation of legislation,” said Leblanc.