Nothing in Queen’s Speech about overseas voters
The Queen’s Speech containing the Johnson government’s proposed laws for the parliamentary session ahead has now been set out – and it contains nothing about Britons right to vote while living abroad.
Despite having a section on voting reforms the speech makes no reference to ending the 15-year rule which bans Britons living abroad for more than 15 years from voting in parliamentary elections and which therefore also stopped them taking part in the EU membership referendum.
As such the speech differs from the 2015 Queen’s Speech, which included 'votes for life', but follows suit from 2017’s which also included no mention of this policy which was listed in the Conservative manifestos for the general elections in 2015 and 2017.
A parliamentary session typically lasts a year, although the previous one exceptionally lasted more than two due to complications related to Brexit.
Last week the government said in a ministerial response to an MP that it "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” and was “disappointed” that a private member’s bill on the topic failed to progress to a vote at its final Report stage in the House of Commons in March this year.
“Nevertheless, the government remains committed to implementing votes for life,” the ministerial reply said.
Today's Queen's Speech (and full supporting papers which form part of it) stated that the government’s priority “has always been to secure the UK’s departure from the EU on October 31” and included no measures specifically about Britons abroad.
It included plans for an immigration bill, ending free movement, to "lay the foundation for a fair, modern and global immigration system" but it said the government is committed to ensuring that EU citizens who live abroad in the UK “who have built their lives in and contributed so much to the UK” have the right to remain.
The government will pass an immigration and social security coordination (EU Withdrawal) bill that will reinforce this commitment, the speech said.
One effect of Brexit, especially if there is no deal, would be a breakdown of the current rules on reciprocal recognition of legal judgments, such as in family disputes over child custody.
Hence the speech’s detailed supporting documents include a reference to a proposed bill “making it easier for UK individuals and families who become involved in international legal disputes to access justice”.
The papers say that this would aim at implementing key international agreements to ensure that after Brexit we continue to have clear and effective legal rules agreed between different countries”. The bill would give UK citizens “greater confidence to live, work and trade internationally”, the papers say.
Proposals on electoral reform include requiring those registered for a postal vote to renew this every three years (at present this choice can be made indefinitely) and limiting to two electors the number of people that a voter may act for as a proxy.
The speech also contained measures to increase the maximum sentences for foreign nationals who return to the UK after a deportation order (from a current limit of six months).
This comes as campaigners from British in Europe have written to the British prime minister saying that “it has been clear to us since this government took office that British citizens in Europe are simply not a priority in its Brexit plans” and that “no-deal would be a disaster for us and our families”.
The group asks that the government “make good upon its duty to protect the interests of its citizens who reside in the EU27”.
The letter adds that recent remarks by the UK’s minister for security, in an interview with a German newspaper, that EU citizens who did not apply for ‘settled status’ in time would be deported “raised alarm bells”, especially bearing in mind that EU countries (such as France) have spoken of a principle of reciprocity.
Both “language and policies” matter in this context, British in Europe said.
“This is a far cry from the promises that were made during the Referendum campaign when Vote Leave – the group you spearheaded – pledged that nothing would change for the five million people whose lives would be directly affected by Brexit,” the letter says.
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