British expats to continue with legal challenge over EU referendum vote

by Ray Clancy on April 29, 2016

Lawyers acting for British citizens fighting a legal battle for the right to vote in the European Union referendum in June are to appeal to the UK’s Supreme Court after their arguments were rejected by two High Court judges.

The case was taken to the High Court hearing on behalf of 94 year old Harry Shindler, a Second World War veteran who lives in Italy, and lawyer and Belgian resident Jacquelyn MacLennan.

Lawyers for the two argued that under the EU Referendum Act 2015 they are being unlawfully denied the right to vote on the UK’s continued membership of the EU as the legislation excludes British people who have lived elsewhere in the European Union for more than 15 years, from voting in June.

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They told the Court that if the vote in June is to leave the EU then all British citizens will lose their status as EU citizens. This means that those British citizens living outside the UK but in the EU will become “resident aliens” living and working abroad under sufferance rather than by right and no longer able to claim the protections of EU law.

The Court also heard arguments that the current 15 year rule acted as a penalty against British citizens for having exercised their free movement rights. The rule prevented them from participating in a democratic process, the result of which might bring to an end the very EU law rights on which they rely and base their working and private lives every day.

However Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mr. Justice Blake said they accepted the Government’s claims that there were significant practical difficulties about adopting a new electoral register which includes non-resident British citizens whose last residence the United Kingdom was more than 15 years ago for this referendum.

“In our view, Parliament could legitimately take the view that electors who satisfy the test of closeness of connection set by the 15 year rule form an appropriate group to vote on the question whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union,” they said in their ruling.

Following the judgment Richard Stein, the lawyer from legal firm Leigh Day representing the expats, said they were disappointed that the High Court has denied them the opportunity to challenge the decision by the Government to exclude British citizens from the EU referendum.

“We now intend to take the legal battle to the Supreme Court, the highest Court in the country, so that all British citizens living elsewhere in the EU can be part of the democratic process to vote in this referendum which will have a very real impact on their lives,” he explained.

“We believe that there is precedent for fast track legislation being put through Parliament in a matter of days in response to court judgment, so there would be no need for the referendum to be delayed if the Supreme Court rules in our favour,” he pointed out.

“Since this is a vote in a referendum rather than in an election there is no need to link the votes of Britons in Europe to any particular constituency in the UK. Possession of a British passport should be enough,” he added.

Jacquelyn MacLennan pointed out that the current Government made a manifesto commitment to give all British citizens a vote, no matter how long they have been abroad. “If British citizens maintain British citizenship that brings with it rights, obligations and a connection with this country, and that that should endure. We just want the Government to keep its promises,” she added.

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