The British government’s plans to keep an election promise and scrap the rule that prevents UK citizens from voting in General Elections if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years, has cleared a critical committee stage in the House of Lords.
The election bill will now proceed to the report stage, where it is scrutinised for any legal loopholes, before returning to the House of Commons for a final vote.
It would end a 20-year battle by 100-year-old Harry Shindler who challenged the current 15-year limit on voting rights in the High Court in 2016 and in the European Court of Justice in 2018. It will also deliver on a promise made by the Tory party in successive election manifestos, and could affect the estimated 3 million Britons working or retired abroad. Centenarian Shindler said, “I’ve been campaigning for this for the last 18 years. And although it has to go back to the House of Commons, it’s now as good as a done deed. This is a historic moment and Britons all over the world will be celebrating.”
However some peers have said it would be unfair that some Britons who have lived abroad for many decades would get to vote in British general elections while many foreign nationals living and paying tax in the UK could not.
Paul Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer, said: “How that would be perceived as fair and a good platform for our electoral process? People who have not lived here for 50 years will have the right to vote and influence government policy, even though it does not directly affect them.”
If it eventually makes it into law then all British citizens living overseas who have been previously registered or previously resident in the UK will be able to cast a vote in elections. These changes could come into effect in time for the next scheduled General Election in 2024, says Whitehall.
In addition, the new rules are expected to mean overseas residents can stay on the UK Electoral Roll longer without renewing their information - once every three years, rather than annually. Electors will be able to reapply for a postal vote or refresh their proxy vote at the same time as renewing their voter registration. The changes will form part of the Elections Bill to be voted on by MPs in the UK parliament.
Speaking last year, British Ambassador Hugh Elliott said, "In an increasingly connected world, most British citizens living in Spain retain deep ties to the UK. Many still have family there, worked there for many years, and some have even fought for our country."