GOVERNMENT delays in making changes ordered five years earlier cost EU citizens their right to vote in the European elections, a watchdog says.

People born in other EU countries were turned away from polling stations in May, with some in Scotland caught up in the scandal.

The row – thought to have affected thousands – resulted in an ongoing legal challenge by citizens' rights the3million, and a probe by the Electoral Commission.

Today it said it had warned Westminster changes were needed in 2014 – but the government "failed to implement" them. Bob Posner, chief executive of the Electoral Commission, said: "The May elections illustrate that delays in government action, which are needed to properly update our electoral laws, now pose significant risks to voter trust and confidence."

Under current practices, EU citizens had to notify their council if they planned to vote in the UK by filing an additional declaration. However, Westminster did not provide funding for awareness campaigns until April 1 and only confirmed the UK would take part in the bloc-wide vote on May 7 – the deadline for the forms to be submitted.

The National:

But five years earlier, the watchdog urged the government to make legal changes to ensure EU citizens in the UK only had to fill out one form.

This year the official body took more than 600 formal complaints and 150 calls about the "unacceptable" disruption, which also cost some UK citizens living abroad their votes.

While the commission was unable to "conclusively verify" how many people were affected, it said 1.7 million EU citizens who previously registered to vote did not submit paperwork in time.

Problems were made worse by the "very late" confirmation of election proceedings, which meant declaration forms were not sent out in the months ahead of the vote, as would usually happen. Overseas electors were also unable to return postal votes in time to be counted.

Posner: “For some time the Commission and other electoral experts have been recommending changes that, if implemented by government, would have ensured that anyone who wanted to and was eligible to vote was readily able to do so. It is deeply regrettable that these recommendations have not yet been acted upon.”

The Cabinet Office said it will "carefully consider the points raised and respond fully in due course", adding: "The government put in place all the legislative and funding elements to enable Returning Officers to make their preparations for the polls on 23 May."

However, it said individual returning officers are responsible for making their own contingency plans.

A source said: "After the 2016 referendum the government understandably did not bring forward changes around voting in European Parliamentary elections, as the legislation to leave the EU meant there was no future poll planned in the UK."

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Tommy Sheppard MP commented: “This report lays bare the complete abdication of responsibility by the Tories at Westminster, who ultimately have the responsibility for ensuring that electoral law is fit for purpose.

“It was shameful the way that EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU were treated by the UK Government in the May European elections, with many being denied their right to vote, resulting in voter disenfranchisement on a large scale.

“Tory ministers must apologise for their incompetence and delays, and implement the recommendations without delay to ensure voters do not experience difficulties again. They must explain why they repeatedly ignored the concerns raised by the SNP before the European elections, and failed to take forward the established recommendations.”

The 3million told The National: "The disenfranchisement was widespread and the UK Government is ultimately responsible for the electoral law, the system built around it and the timing of the final confirmation the 2019 Elections would be happening. That is why the3million are taking legal action."