British people living abroad who have fallen off UK electoral registers under the ‘15-year rule’ are now expected to be able to re-register to vote from next January.
The date is slightly later than original predictions but should come in time for an estimated two million such Britons to vote in the next UK general election, which is expected to take place during 2024 (January 2025 is the latest possible date).
The Electoral Commission, which will help organise the re-registration process, updated its website to refer to January as the key point when this change will come in.
This has also been confirmed to us by the campaign group British in Europe (BiE) after its discussions with the UK ministry involved in the change.
Rule changes too late
In recent years, the UK’s rules have cut off Britons from voting after 15 years abroad but removing this has been a Conservative promise since the 2015 general election.
It had been hoped it could be done in time for the Brexit referendum, which was based on the parliamentary election franchise, but that did not happen, nor for the general elections in 2017 and 2019.
The change was passed in the Elections Act in April 2022, but secondary legislation was needed for the practical processes to allow people to re-register.
In another change, once registered, Britons abroad will remain so for three years instead of being required to re-confirm annually.
They will also be able to vote if they can prove they lived in a UK constituency at some point, as opposed to the previous rule that they had to have been registered to vote in a UK constituency (or if a minor when leaving the UK, their parents were).
Last year, the minister for the relevant UK government department – known as Levelling Up – said in a letter that “the Government intends that legislation will be implemented to facilitate registration of electors from autumn 2023”.
The secondary legislation is still being finalised, but an Electoral Commission source told The Connexion that January is the expected date for this to come into force, with the aim that those affected can vote in the next general election.
This was based on their discussions with Levelling Up, we were told. BiE has been helping to feed into the preparation of the new rules, which they hope will be as practical and helpful as possible.
The group gave the government data from their recent voting survey of Britons abroad. Co-chair Fiona Godfrey said they were pleased to have a “last push” from Connexion articles in print and online, with many participants in the week before the survey closed reporting coming via the information we gave.
She said they have been told by Levelling Up that the timetable it is working to is for the secondary legislation to be laid before parliament this autumn [this often does not involve actual debate, but just a tacit approval] and for it to enter into force in January 2024.
As many commentators think the election will not be held until autumn 2024, this should give disenfranchised voters enough time to re-register, she said.
“We have engaged in constructive conversation with Levelling Up about the needs of current and prospective British voters overseas."
“We received over 7,000 survey responses, with numerous practical suggestions as to how voter registration and the voting experience could be improved.
“We hope that they will be included in the draft secondary legislation.”
The suggestions included making it easy to prove previous residency with a wide range of documents, she said. Many comments were also received about problems with postal voting in the past.
British in Europe continues to engage with the minstry over what documents will be accepted to prove previous residency or registration in a UK constituency.
The change, sadly, will come too late for World War Two veteran and campaigner for rights of Britons abroad Harry Shindler, who died aged 101 in late February and who had hoped to vote again in a UK election after having lost the vote under the 15-year rule.