‘Expats must not be left out’

Peers spoke this week in support of long-term expats having an EU referendum vote – and there is still time to lobby

6 November 2015

“IT WOULD be extraordinary if the government did not exert themselves to ensure that these British citizens who have been abroad for more than 15 years have the vote on the occasion of the EU referendum, when their own rights and livelihoods are at stake”.

So said Crossbencher Lord Hannay in the House of Lords this week, urging a change to the UK’s EU Referendum Bill.

He added: “They and their futures are directly involved in this. Frankly, it would be appalling if the government, later in this parliament, in an act of supreme generosity, gave them the vote — but after the referendum in which they wish to vote.”

Another peer, Lord Bowness (Con), said: “We are speaking of people who have made possibly lifetime decisions to go and live and work in the EU and we are proposing to have a referendum that will determine whether or not the UK stays within the union. Those people must in fairness have the right to participate.”

Lib-Dem peer Baroness Miller said: “If we can make a rule that exceptionally, peers can vote in this referendum, we can surely make the same exceptional provision for a group with at least as great an interest in the matter as anyone in your Lordships’ House—and a group with a lot more at stake. These British expats in the EU will face a giant step into the unknown should the vote lead to an exit from the EU.”

These were among many comments made by lords in a debate this week on whether or not to amend the UK’s EU Referendum Bill to allow long-term expats in the EU to vote in the referendum.

The issue will be debated for the last time in 12 day’s time, on November 18, at which point Baroness Miller will reintroduce the measure. This is despite her having withdrawn it this week, which she said was for tactical reasons and does not mean the bid has failed.

The idea is officially supported by the Liberal Democrat Party and has strong support from Crossbenchers (those of no political party) as well as being backed so far by some backbench Conservative and Labour peers.

However having the amendment accepted may not be easy because the government’s official position is that it wants expat voting rights for the referendum to remain the same as for General Elections – which therefore excludes long-term expats until such time as a separate bill ‘Votes for Life’ bill is passed to end the “15-year rule”.

A minister said this week they still intend to have a Votes for Life Bill, but the government is still “considering the timetable” for this.

Tory peer Lord Lexden said that it was now “unlikely” this would happen in time for the referendum, which he said was “deeply disappointing”.

“It is extremely unfortunate, to put it mildly, that work was not set in hand at the earliest opportunity” to debate the Votes for Life Bill in time, so the current problem was avoided, he said, adding that because of this he thought the Referendum Bill should be amended so that all expats may take part everywhere.

However it also emerged in the debate that the Labour Party does not officially support ending the 15-year rule.

Baroness Miller told Connexion she remains convinced of the importance of amending the bill specifically to include Britons in the EU, who are most affected, leaving aside the issue of long-term expats world-wide as a separate matter for the Votes for Life Bill.

She said: “The Labour people who supported my amendment will only support it if it’s restricted to Britons in the EU. In fact generally speaking, a lot of the support I got was on this basis. People say ‘why should someone who moved to Australia 30 years ago have a vote?’, and I think that’s valid – the referendum won’t affect them day to day.”

She added: “The essential thing now is to get all your friends and family to lobby members of the House of Lords - either ones they know, or just pick someone, but choose people who spoke against the idea or didn’t speak, rather than those who are already on board. I suggest especially writing to Baroness Anelay (Con), who is in charge of this bill in the Lords."

She asked that readers urge the peers to support her when she (or possibly Lord Hannay) renews an amendment for long-term expats at Report Stage on November 18. "There’s everything to play for at this point. We’ve really got to fight hard between now and the 18th to win over those lords who don’t understand what the issues are."

Full listings of peers’ contact details can be found here: House of Lords

Previous story: Will EU expats win referendum vote?

This week’s full debate can be found at: Debate

Peers who this week supported an amendment for long-term expats in the EU included:

Baroness Miller (LD)
Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
Lord Shipley (LD)
Lord Garrel-Jones (Con)
Lord Bowness (Con)
Lord Tugendhat (Con)
Lord Foulkes (Lab)
Lord Liddle (Lab)
Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab)
Lord Hannay (CB)
Lord Dykes (CB)

Photo: OpenDemocracy / Flickr.com

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