Should UK expats be able to vote in national elections?

by Ray Clancy on September 3, 2014

Hundreds of thousands of British expats could find themselves with the right to vote in UK elections after a pledge from the UK’s Conservative Party.

The party, which currently governs in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, has promised to end the controversial 15 year rule that means those moving abroad forfeit their right to vote in elections after a set time period.


An estimated 5.5 million British people currently live abroad

It is estimated that around 5.5 million British people currently live abroad, of which hundreds of thousands are not eligible to vote as they have lived overseas for too long. They could be eligible to vote if the rule is changed. Many groups have campaigned over the years for change, but some believe that the current pledge might not be fulfilled.

Indeed, if the Conservatives do not win the general election next year, it is questionable whether the change would come about.

But the party says it wants to protect the rights of British citizens overseas who have contributed to Britain all their lives. Many are effectively disenfranchised as they cannot usually vote abroad unless they take citizenship of the country where they live.

‘Millions of British citizens live and work across the globe. Many have worked hard, contributed to Britain all their lives, and have close family living in Britain,’ said a Conservative spokesman.

‘Like many other countries, the UK continues to protect British citizens living abroad with its military, embassy network, passport and other services. However, Britain currently restricts the rights of these citizens to vote in general elections,’ he explained.

‘If the Conservative Party wins the next general election, we will remove this cap and extend it to a full right as a British citizen to vote in British elections for life,’ he added.

However, expat Brian Cave who lives in France and who has long been campaigning for the abolition of the 15 year rule said that many may well be cynical about the pledge. ‘People want to know why they cannot vote now and why they have to wait until after the election,’ he said.

In Scotland, which is holding a referendum on independence in two weeks’ time, many expats have been unhappy that they cannot have a say. Even although they live abroad, they would like to vote as many reckon they will return to Scotland at some point and so should have a say in the country’s future.

‘If you remain away from the UK for any more than the 15 years, you will then automatically lose your right to vote in British elections,’ said a spokesman for the Electoral Commission.

‘The right to vote in the nation that you have moved to will vary considerably from country to country. This will usually be dependent upon when you are considered to be a full citizen within that particular country,’ he added.

According to campaigning group Votes for Expat Brits, the denial of a right to vote is ‘scandalous’. ‘We believe that the UK should enable and encourage all its expat citizens, not just some of them, to participate fully in the political process in their home country, by giving them unrestricted voting rights in national elections, as in most other advanced democracies and indeed in many so-called third world countries,’ said a spokesman.

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