The British Parliament voted against lifelong votes for expats. / Afp
Campaigners against the denial of voting rights for Britons who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years say they are “appalled and frustrated” by British politicians’ decision not to remove a clause in a bill which would have had led to expats having the vote for life.
“Currently, British expatriates are scandalously deprived of the right to register to vote in UK national elections after 15 years’ residence abroad,” Brian Cave from the ‘Votes for Expat Brits’ campaign tells SUR in English.
“But on Wednesday afternoon, fuelled by our ongoing lobbying, there was a debate in the House of Commons to remove the clause in the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill which stipulates that 15 year rule.”
He continues: “However, democracy has again been ‘sold down the river’ when David Heath, a Liberal Democrat MP and deputy leader of the House of Commons, demanded that Geoffrey Cliffton-Brown, the Conservative MP who introduced the motion, withdraw the proposal.”
In the parliamentary chamber, Mr Heath said: “What are registration officers to do to identify all those abroad who might be qualified to vote? Putting an onus on them... to seek out everyone who could possibly be qualified to vote would provide an insuperable problem if applied to overseas electors.
“I ask the Hon. Gentleman to withdraw his new clause. He has made some very important points and I undertake that the Government will give them serious consideration. We will see whether there are proposals that we might wish to bring forward in due course to address some of his points.”
Brian Cave says the decision for the proposal to be dropped, meaning Britons abroad will continue to become disenfranchised after 15 years, smacks of internal politics.
“In my mind there’s no doubt that the Lib Dem leader and deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who has been openly opposed to the removal of the expat clause, put pressure on David Heath to demand in the House that no changes be made to the Bill.
“Mr Cliffton-Brown duly complied with Heath so as not to expose any divisions in the coalition government.
“A glorious window of opportunity to stand up for the rights of British citizens who happen to live overseas, has been missed,” he affirms.
In a previous statement issued by his assistant, Nick Clegg’s views were made clear: “Nick supports the existing legislation on this issue, including the removal of the right to vote after 15 years of living abroad.
“If a Briton has settled in another country, it is intuitive that they would know about, and be directly affected by, the issues of that country.”
The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill now has to go before the House of Lords, and the lobbyists are vowing to continue their work.
“Of course we will fight on!” says Brian Cave. “It’s too important a cause not to! ”
With support from several peers, including Lord Lexden, ‘Votes for Expat Brits’ say they are “hopeful” their campaign will be successful.
UK legislation as it stands now
Under current legislation, UK citizens are stripped of their right to vote in Parliamentary elections if they have resided abroad for more than 15 years.
The ‘Votes for Expat Brits’ campaign group argues that this is fundamentally undemocratic.
Apart from expatriates, the only other British citizens who do not enjoy the right to vote are children, individuals who are confined within mental health institutions, and criminals whilst imprisoned.
Most other member states of the European Union, including Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal, plus other countries such as the United States, and Switzerland, allow expats to participate in elections throughout their lives.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) estimates that there are currently 5.6 million Britons living overseas.