Will votes for Britons abroad be in Queen's Speech?

Queen Elizabeth opens the previous session of parliament with her 2017 Queen's Speech

Will the new Queen’s Speech setting out a “very exciting agenda” of new proposed laws for the UK include one scrapping the 15-year rule on voting by Britons living outside the UK?

That is the question being raised by Dr Sue Collard, an expert on Britons voting abroad from the politics department of the University of Sussex.

It comes as last week in an answer to a written question in the British parliament from MP Caroline Noakes, the UK's Cabinet Office confirmed that “the government is committed to scrapping the arbitrary rule preventing British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from participating in UK parliamentary elections”.

The rule also affects the right to vote in referendums.

The reply added: “That is why we supported Glyn Davies’ Private Members’ Bill on overseas electors.

“We were therefore disappointed the bill did not progress through its report stage in the Commons on 22 March 2019. Nevertheless, the government remains committed to implementing votes for life.

“Changes to the franchise require parliamentary approval and have to be made significantly in advance of elections, to enable administrators to implement the change and to ensure citizens are aware of the change to their rights.
“We will make an announcement on our intentions in due course.”

Dr Collard in a post on her Facebook page Britons Abroad notes: “Although it seems clear that an autumn election will prevent the actual passing of any of the proposed legislation in the Queen's Speech proposed by the Johnson government next week, it will give an indication of its main policy goals and what might be included in its next election manifesto.”

She wondered whether the government would table such a bill again after the “fiasco” of the previous bill’s “demise”.

A promise to scrap the 15-year rule and give British people living abroad “votes for life” was first made in the 2014 Conservative manifesto for the general election held in May 2015, and plans for a law on it were included in the Queen's Speech of 2015, then again in the Conservative manifesto for the election in June 2017.

There were hopes that the law may be passesd in time for all Britons abroad to take part in the EU membership referendum in 2017, but it was not prioritised, leading to many of those affected by the decision to leave having no say as the referendum franchise was mostly based on the general election one.

The May government promised the law would change before the next scheduled general election in 2022 and chose to give official approval to a private member’s bill introduced on the topic in July 2017 – although it never chose to take it over as an official government bill which would have had more time for debate and would have been less vulnerable to failure.

It took almost two years to go through the House of Commons then failed before going to the House of Lords after a Tory Brexiteer deliberately talked for too long meaning no vote could be held. Dr Collard called it “a travesty of democracy” at the time. 

The parliamentary answer last week is the first time the government under Mr Johnson has restated the commitment to removing the rule.

The Cabinet Office did not confirm to Connexion if the measure would be included in the Queen’s Speech on Monday, saying that no details of the contents would be released in advance.

The Queen's Speech on Monday will open a new session of parliament after the previous one which was opened in June 2017 - meaning the last session was the longest since the Civil War.

Previous article: Dr Susan Collard - Would Britons abroad have a say in a People's Vote? 

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