A bill giving lifetime voting rights to Britons abroad is well on track to become law before the summer break after passing another crucial step in the UK parliament this week.
The Elections Bill, of which ‘votes for life’ is one key part, is a government-backed bill and has been expected to make good on the long-standing Conservative Party promise to remove the ‘15-year’ rule which cuts off Britons who move abroad after this time.
Lifetime voting would also have allowed many Britons abroad, who missed out in 2016, to have voted in the EU referendum, which led to Brexit and which was linked to parliamentary voting rights.
This week the bill passed the committee stage in the House of Lords, with the sections on ‘votes for life’ intact after some amendments on this were withdrawn. It will receive final scrutiny in the Lords in a report stage, now scheduled to start on April 6, before going back to the House of Commons for a final vote.
It is not thought at this stage that the votes for life element is in doubt.
The chair of LibDems in France, Jenny Shorten, told The Connexion that Liberal Democrat lords have told them everything may be finished by May, as long as there are no delays linked to matters such as the war in Ukraine. It is hoped that, at the latest, it will be passed before the summer break.
The party has however been promoting amendments calling on the government to look, once the bill is passed, at measures including overseas constituencies, similar to the ones that France has, and better ways of voting from abroad, such as downloadable ballots, to make sure postal votes get back on time.
This did not succeed at committee stage, but they still hope for a final chance in the report stage, Ms Shorten said.
“We very much welcome the fact they have got round to giving people the vote but it doesn’t solve all the problems many people face,” she said.
The bill allows Britons abroad to register to vote as long as they have been registered at some point in the past, or can show they previously lived in the UK (whether registered or not).
Once the bill is passed, secondary legislation will be needed with new rules to put in place for the mechanisms which will allow new voters to actually register.
It is unclear when this will be finalised but it is expected to be in good time for the next general elections in May 2024.
Ms Shorten said the government has promised a publicity campaign to encourage people who had lost their vote after more than 15 years to take advantage of the new rules.
“We’ve been told that both Labour and the Conservatives are already campaigning to get their overseas voters to register, and so are we.”