British expats launch London court bid over EU referendum vote

by Ray Clancy on March 17, 2016

A challenge has been launched by a British expat in the High Court in London claiming that preventing Brits who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in the forthcoming referendum on membership of the European Union is illegal.

British people living abroad for less than 15 years can still vote in local and national elections but those who have stayed outside the UK cannot. Many living in Europe want to take part in the vote in June as they say are likely to be the most affected by the outcome.

Now lawyers for Harry Shindler, 94, who has lived in Italy for more than 30 years, and others have lodged the legal challenge. The present government promised to do away with the 15 year restriction but the Cabinet Office, which coordinates electoral policy, said there would not be parliamentary time to abolish the 15 year rule before the vote on 23 June.

eu-european parliament

“Our clients are being penalised for exercising their EU free movement rights. The EU Referendum Act 2015 is said to be based on legislation for UK parliamentary general elections but it gives a vote in the EU referendum to members of the House of Lords, as well as to Irish and Commonwealth citizens who are resident in Gibraltar. None of these are allowed to vote in UK general elections,” said Richard Stein, a partner with the law firm Leigh Day.

“The people it arbitrarily excludes are those UK citizens who are among those most likely to be affected by the decision taken by voters in this referendum. Not to allow them to vote on the decision whether the UK remains part of the EU is unlawful and we have asked the court to deal with the issues urgently so that the act can be amended before the June date, to include all UK citizens residing in the EU for however long,” he added.

Sir Roger Gale, a British MP who campaigns on behalf of expats, is hoping that the legal review will be successful. “It is quite wrong that those who maintain strong ties to their country, who proudly carry British passports and who in many cases still pay taxes in the UK should be denied the right to vote on the most important decision that has faced Britain for several generations,” he said.

“The judicial review, which has been promoted by the Italian resident and war veteran Harry Shindler, represents the last opportunity to correct an omission from what is now the Referendum Act and to secure the vote for those, most of whom have lived and paid taxes in the UK throughout their working lives, who are now living overseas. I hope very much that Harry succeeds,” he added.

The Cabinet Office said ending the 15 year rule should not be connected with the referendum vote. “The franchise for the EU referendum was debated, considered and agreed by both Houses of Parliament and is set out in legislation. Scrapping the 15 year rule for overseas electors is a manifesto pledge which the government remains committed to delivering. It is not connected to the referendum,” it said in a statement.

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