As many as a million expatriate Britons are to given the right to vote in UK elections going forward, the British government announced on Friday.
An existing law sets a 15-year-limit on the period after which British expats who have settled overseas are able to participate in UK elections. The law was heavily criticised ahead of the EU referendum vote in June, as it meant that many expat Brits who are now likely to be affected by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union were not able to vote on the matter.
As International Investment reported last month, UK prime minister Theresa May vowed to scrap this restriction on expats’ voting rights back in September, and this plan was made official in a statement on Friday by Chris Skidmore, a government minister who is responsible for constitutional issues.
The proposed change will need to be ratified by both houses of Parliament.
In a statement issued by the Cabinet Office, Skidmore said that by scrapping the unpopular limitation, the Government hoped to “strengthen [the UK’s] ties with countries around the world, and show that the UK is an outward-facing nation”, in the wake of “the British people’s decision to leave the EU”.
“Our expat community has an important role to play in helping Britain expand international trade, especially given two-thirds of expats live outside the EU,” he added.
Ahead of the Brexit vote in June, two Europe-based expats who weren’t able to vote in the Referendum because of the 15-year-rule – one of whom was a 95-year-old former WWII veteran who lives in Italy, and who was awarded an MBE in 2014 for his services to Anglo-Italian relations – got as far as the Supreme Court in an attempt to be able to participate in the poll. But the court upheld earlier rulings which said that the 15-year-limit did not unlawfully interfere with the right of freedom of movement within the EU, and that the Government was entitled to set a time limit on residence, relative to voting rights.
The UK Electoral Commission estimates that 5.5 million Brits live overseas, but it only had 106,000 on voting lists for the 2015 general election – the highest number ever recorded.