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Expat Brits left without European elections vote after postal ballot delays

Patrick Sawer
Ballot boxes and signs being dispatched to polling stations around Scotland, but Brits overseas fear they will miss out on vote after postal ballot delays - PA

Hundreds of British expats have been left unable to vote in Thursday's European Elections after their postal voting forms arrived too late.

Voters living overseas say they have been disenfranchised after receiving their ballot papers too late to return them by the voting deadline.

However the Electoral Commission risks being accused of washing its hands of the problem, after it said it would not be launching an investigation into the conduct of the postal vote as the matter was not its responsibility.

That comes despite the commission launching a controversial review of the financing of the Brexit Party earlier this week.

The chaos came after dozens of councils hired the printing and dispatch firm Adare SEC, rather than using the Royal Mail, to deliver ballot papers to British voters living in continental Europe.

British nationals who have migrated overseas are eligible to vote in their original European Parliament constituencies if they have registered in time to do so.

The Telegraph understands that several of the councils who subcontracted the task to Adare SEC are in predominantly Brexit supporting areas, including Barnsley, Doncaster, Calderdale and Northumberland. Others where overseas voters have complained of delays include Gloucester, Darlington, Canterbury, Monmouthshire and Newcastle upon Tyne.

There are claims on both Leave and Remain sides that they will suffer from the delays.

It has now emerged that many of the postal votes were sent by Adare SEC via the Netherlands, regardless of their final destination. Envelopes containing the ballot papers received by a number of overseas voters had the stamp ‘postnl’ on them, indicating they had been directed through the Netherlands.

It is feared that thousands of British voters in France and Spain alone could be affected by the delays, based on the number of overseas voters on the UK electoral register, which in 2017 totalled more than 285,000.

Joy Elise Allen, 64, who lives in Nouvelle Aquitaine, western France, told The Telegraph she only received her postal vote from Barnsley council for the Yorkshire and the Humber European Parliament constituency last Friday, leaving her fearing it might not be returned in time for Thursday's vote.

Joy Elise Allen, a British migrant to France whose European elections postal vote came late Credit: Joy Elise Allen

Ms Allen, who is in contact with several other Britons in the same position, said: “We've been denied the right to vote just so the council could use a cheap, bulk mail carrier. We're really angry about the situation.

“A lot of us are ex-government employees and we pay our taxes. We’re really unhappy.”

Stuart Bradley, who lives in the Loire region of France, said: “I'm as angry as f***. Despite my registering in plenty of time, my postal ballot, and my wife's arrived here in France just yesterday [Monday]. Too late to post now.”

The Liberal Democrats are considering making an official complaint about the delays, including possible legal action against particular returning officers, who are legally responsible for the conduct of the vote in their area.

A source for the party said: “We have heard that several people have not received their ballots and think this is extremely concerning. It is incredibly important that everyone gets their say in these crucial elections.

“We would encourage people to complain and are considering whether to take action ourselves.”

Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, said: “It is an absolute scandal that Brits living on the continent have not received their postal votes in time to vote in tomorrow’s E.U. elections. The disenfranchising of such a large group of people in any other democracy would cause uproar.”

The Association of Electoral Administrators, which represents returning officers, said the only way for people who had not received a postal ballot paper to vote was to obtain one in person from their returning office ahead of the close of polls on Thursday evening - something clearly impracticable for most overseas voters.

The envelope containing Ms Allen's delayed ballot paper showed it came via the Netherlands Credit: Joy Elise Allen

The Electoral Commission, which has previously recommended postal voting reforms, including voters being able to print out online ballot posters  said it had no legal basis for investigating delays in postal votes as this was the responsibility of the local authority in the electoral area in question.

A spokesman for the commission said: “The only way to challenge the result of an election is through a legal challenge of an election petition whereby those bringing about the challenge would have to prove their disenfranchisement could have changed the result of an election.”

Adare SEC, which operates from offices in Huddersfield, Nottingham and Redditch, boasts that it gives its clients the “maximum postal discount possible” - making it an attractive prospect for cash strapped councils running expensive postal voting programmes.

The firm defended its operation, saying: “Quality and on-time delivery is always of the utmost importance to us. Adare SEC is pleased to confirm that all Postal Ballot Papers were produced and released into the postal system in line with the election and council timetables.”

However it refused to say how many individual ballot papers it had dispatched overseas for the European Elections or estimate how many of these had been delayed.

Barnsley and Calderdale councils said they had received a small number of complaints and were investigating the issue.