British citizens who have moved abroad will be given ‘votes for life’ as the UK Government scraps the arbitrary 15-year limit on the voting rights.
The new measures which will make it easier for British citizens who have moved abroad to participate in British democracy were announced in the Queen’s Speech in March and confirmed in a statement issued by the Cabinet Office on Thursday.
“Today the Government is setting out further details on plans to scrap the arbitrary rule that prevents British citizens from voting in General Elections if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years,” the statement read.
“Decisions made in the UK Parliament on foreign policy, defence, immigration, pensions and trade deals affect British citizens who live overseas. It is therefore right that they have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections.”
This welcome news follows a long campaign led by Harry Shindler, MBE, who has been championing the fight for his right to vote in British elections.
Shindler, who has lived in Italy for 40 years and will turn 100 in July, has been campaigning for the move for 25 years.
Over 5 million UK nationals around the world have been denied their right to vote, some for years, if not decades.
“Many UK nationals have been waiting for this news for years, if not decades. Despite some scepticism after previous promises were broken, it really feels like there’s real momentum now,” Sue Wilson, the chair of Bremain in Spain told The Olive Press.
“The inclusion of our voting rights in the Elections Bill, together with funding set aside in the budget can only be seen of evidence of progress. The government are finally following through on their repeated manifesto commitments. Although long overdue, today’s announcement is most welcome. Finally, we can look forward to the restoration of our democratic voting rights.”
The commitment to end the 15-year-rule was included as part of the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto when they pledged: “We will make it easier for British expats to vote in Parliamentary elections, and get rid of the arbitrary 15-year limit on their voting rights”.
The changes, which will form part of the Elections Bill, will also include measures to enable overseas electors to stay registered to vote for longer, with an absent voting arrangement in place.
These changes will come into effect in time for the next scheduled General Election in 2024.
Hugh Elliott, the British Ambassador in Madrid said: “In an increasingly connected world, most British citizens living in Spain retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family there, worked there for many years, and some have even fought for our country.
“They deserve to have their voices heard in Parliament, no matter where they live, and I am delighted that UK Nationals living in Spain will now be able to participate in our democracy.”
In addition, new rules will mean overseas electors can stay registered for longer, including with an absent voting arrangement in place, requiring them to renew their registration details 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, streamlining the process and helping to ensure overseas electors have appropriate voting arrangements in place ahead of an election.
- British expats in Spain and across Europe welcome UK move to scrap 15-year voting rule
- How the fight for the rights of British citizens in Spain continues after Brexit
- BREXIT: Brits unite in fight to extend 90-day allowance in Spain