British expats to be granted votes for life in election rule change

A ballot box
A ballot box (PA Wire)
14:32pm, Thu 27 May 2021
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British expats will soon be able to vote in future general elections for life, as the Government plans to scrap a 15-year limit on casting ballots from abroad.

The Elections Bill aims to remove an “arbitrary” rule which currently means that those who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years lose their right to vote in a general election.

It will also include measures that will allow overseas voters to stay on the register for longer.

Ministers believe that, because decisions made by MPs on areas such as foreign policy, defence, immigration, pensions, and trade deals affect British citizens wherever they live in the world, they should be able to take part in elections wherever they live, and for life.

The Government previously said it is estimated that up to three million overseas voters are affected by the 15-year rule.

These measures support our vision for a truly global Britain, opening up our democracy to British citizens living overseas who deserve to have their voices heard in our Parliament, no matter where they choose to live

Cabinet Office minister Lord True said: “In an increasingly global and connected world most British citizens living overseas retain deep ties to the United Kingdom.

“Many still have family here, have a history of hard work in the UK behind them, and some have even fought for our country.

“These measures support our vision for a truly global Britain, opening up our democracy to British citizens living overseas who deserve to have their voices heard in our Parliament, no matter where they choose to live.”

The intention to remove the 15-year limit, which was first introduced in 2002, was first announced by the Conservatives in 2015 and measures were finally introduced at the Budget this year, with the Treasury estimating it will cost £2.5 million to reverse.

Second World War veteran Harry Shindler, who moved to Italy in 1982, campaigned for the change for a number of years.

Along with Jacquelyn MacLennan, who has lived in Brussels since 1987, he took a case to the High Court after the pair were blocked from voting in the 2016 referendum on European Union membership.

They claimed that the 15-year rule constituted a restriction on their rights of free movement, although the case was lost.

Mr Shindler previously tweeted: “We fought to defend our right to vote in WW2 and now we will get to use it. This is an important day for freedom.”

The House of Commons library said that, until 2015, the number of overseas citizens registered to vote had never risen above 35,000.

But after an overseas voter registration campaign in the run-up to the 2015 general election, combined with the Brexit referendum the following year, this had risen to 264,000 by December 2016.

At the 2017 election, there were a record 285,000 registered overseas voters, and this dropped to 233,000 in 2019.

Those who wish to vote will need to have been previously registered, or previously lived in the UK.

It also means overseas voters will only have to renew registration details every three years, rather than annually, and they will be able to reapply for a postal vote or confirm proxy voting arrangements at the same time.

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