British flags are waved at the british Legion event
A new, worldwide campaign has been launched by a group of expatriates living in France who argue that all British expats should maintain the right to vote in Britain regardless of how long they have been abroad.
The ‘Votes for Britons’ campaign is urging the 5.6 million Britons who permanently reside overseas, including those here on the Costa del Sol, to sign a petition on their website, votes-for-expat-brits.com, and to lobby ministers on the issue of enfranchisement.
Under the current legislation, Britons who live overseas automatically lose their right to take part in general elections if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years.
“Other nationalities who chose to live abroad don’t face having their right to vote taken away because they live in Spain or France, for example,” Anita Rieu-Sicart, a journalist working for the campaign, tells SUR in English.
“In fact, France’s President Sarkozy is reaching out to the thousands of French expatriate citizens and wants to give them proper representation in the French Senate.
“Similarly, a Spanish citizen who lives in the UK retains the lifelong right to vote in Spain’s general elections,” she adds.
This is also the case for those from many other countries, including Italy, France, Germany and Poland, who live abroad.
“Even Morocco, hardly noted for its democratic principles, is making it possible for its citizens to vote on the country’s Constitution, wherever they are,” adds Anita.
British-born Estepona resident, Mitch Norman, is backing the campaign. “I think it’s a disgrace that the Government takes away our right to vote just because we have decided to live in Spain for more than 15 years,” he adds. “Because I’ve lived on the Costa del Sol for several years doesn’t make me any less British!
“For years I’ve contributed to the UK in terms of paying tax, owning properties, running businesses, creating jobs, and bringing up a family. Now, because I’m enjoying my retirement in Spain, they penalise me by taking away my vote”.
He continues: “I also believe that most British citizens living overseas are ambassadors for the UK, often representing ‘The Best of British’. And we are repaid by the Government removing our right to vote.”
A spokesman for the British Embassy in Madrid tells SUR in English: “Until 1985 no UK citizen living overseas could vote (other than Members of the Armed Forces or Crown Servants). Since then, the limit has been five years, 20 years and now it is 15 years. Enfranchisement is a matter for Government and Parliament, and therefore any comments should be directed to the Ministry of Justice.”
High profile campaigners
Anita Rieu-Sicart’s recent article in France’s Var Village Voice highlights the case of one British man, James Preston, who has lived with his wife and children in Spain since 1995. He is to take the UK Government to the High Court this autumn on the matter.
Preston’s QC is to claim that the legislation “penalises British citizens in the exercise of free movement” and violates certain laws established by the European Union.
Similarly, Harry Shindler, a 90 year-old war veteran living in Italy, took his case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg earlier this year.
The Court has now asked Britain to explain its actions. In its request it writes: “One of the major concerns of the Council of Europe is to preserve and strengthen democracy and civic rights of member states. Steps should therefore be taken to ensure that every national of a member state is able to exercise his political rights, at least in his country of origin, when he resides in another Council of Europe member state.”
The ‘Votes for Britons’ campaign is calling on UK expatriates on the Costa del Sol to “join the fight”. Rieu-Sicart says: “We need individuals, clubs and associations to sign up. We have to work together and the internet provides us with the perfect medium. Together, we can be very effective.”