MICHAEL Russell has written to Theresa May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, to urge the UK Government to confirm it will hold European Parliament elections.

The Scottish Brexit Secretary has insisted holding European elections on May 23 is essential for the UK as he has warned staging a second referendum could take up to eight months to organise.

Russell has also stressed the need for UK ministers to seek a "very long extension" to the Brexit process. As it stands, the UK is due to leave the EU on April 12, with no deal yet in place.

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Now, writing to Cabinet Office Minister Lidington, Russell has outlined concerns that there could be problems at polling stations if the UK takes part in the European Parliament election, with EU citizens facing challenges to register in time to vote.

“If the United Kingdom and Gibraltar are to remain part of the European Union after May 22, 2019, in my view it is imperative that European Parliament elections are held both because this is a legal obligation on the UK Government, and so that appropriate representation is in place to promote and protect our interests,” Russell wrote. “This would appear to be the inevitable consequence of the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday.

“I note what you have said about reimbursing reasonable spending on preparations for the poll but, as you will be aware, in order to hold the poll on Thursday May 23, 2019, the UK Government must make the order formally setting that date for the poll. As you are aware, this order must be made by Thursday April 11, 2019.

“I would urge you to make it as soon as possible in order to bring some clarity to the situation and to allow returning officers to plan with certainty. I am already concerned that the UK Government’s late acknowledgement of the likely need for European Parliament elections will increase the risk of problems at the poll.

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“In particular, I am concerned that citizens of EU member states will not have sufficient time to complete the UC1 form which will allow them to vote at the European Parliamentary elections in the UK. If EU citizens do not have time to complete and return these forms then they will be disenfranchised and will not be able to vote on May 23. If this does happen then it will call into question the propriety of the poll.

“I would strongly urge the UK Government to confirm its decision now and to hold the European Parliament elections. In that case the UK Government should lay the necessary order without delay to formally set the day of poll. This will allow returning officers to make firm plans for the running of the election.”