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What do parties offer UK expats?

As we enter the last days for expats to register to vote in the UK general election we look at the parties’ key policies

IF ELECTED in the UK’s general election on May 7 the Green Party would bring back Winter Fuel Payment for expats and temporary S1 forms for early-retirees and the Conservatives would end the 15-year limit on expatriate votes.

Those are some of the policies which the main parties wanted to bring to Connexion readers’ attention as we enter the last days to sign up online to have a postal or proxy vote from France for British expats who have been out of the UK for less than 15 years.

The deadline for new registrations is April 20 and the online procedure has to be followed by a council officer physically registering you. Only then can they accept the separate application form for a proxy or postal vote, with the last ones being accepted on April 21 (postal) and April 28 (proxy). If applying online, therefore, make sure you send off the postal or proxy application straight away too; do not wait for confirmation of being registered. Please note that having been on the register at the last election is no guarantee that you are still registered.

Online applications are at: Register to vote You should be emailed the postal/proxy form after completing the application, but they can also be found at: Postal/proxy forms.

We gave the five main parties a week to tell us if they wished to pass on messages about what they offer expats, especially anything with regard to such topics as the Winter Fuel Payment (WFP) being stopped for expats in France, the ending of temporary S1 health forms for early-retirees last year, introducing special MPs for expats such as France has, and the 15-year limit on expatriate voting. Several parties also told us about their views on the UK's relationship with the EU.

The Green Party:

Like the Labour Party, the Greens’ manifesto says they support an in/out referendum on the EU; however the document does not specify when this would be held.

National spokesman on international affairs Tony Clarke stressed to Connexion the party’s vision of a “strong UK within a free Europe”, which is supportive of membership but sceptical about some of the directions in which the EU has been developing.

He said: “We would seek to replace the unsustainable economics of free trade and unrestricted growth with the ecological alternative of local self-reliance and resource conservation, within a context of wider diversity.

“We want to foster co-operation on issues of common interest, not establish international institutions for their own sake. We want social justice and economic democracy to bring fairer and more resilient societies to Europe.

“We recognise the value of the original goal of the founders who sought to remove the threat of another war between European states. This has been distorted by vested political and economic interests into a union dominated by economic interests, which lacks democratic control, and promotes the goals of multinational corporations which are interested in profit not people, and which runs counter to the professed core values of the union.

“We believe that the ecological challenges and stark inequalities the world faces present a potential new role for the EU as part of wider global co-operation.

“As such we see the role of UK expats living within the EU as critical to determining a new deal for Europe and the EU which is centred around the needs of its people, not of bankers, financiers and large corporations.

“We promote and support, within the EU, the principle of equal rights for residents - including migrant workers - and nationals, excluding the right to indefinite residence. Residents and nationals should have the same rights of movement and of political, social and religious activity. They should have equal rights in access to housing, employment, welfare services, health care, education and legal aid.”

(Referring to the right to indefinite residence, Mr Clarke said the party’s position on this is legally complex as regards rights of nationals and residents, and would be difficult to summarise.)

Mr Clarke said that so as to ensure equal treatment of EU residents in France, the current government’s removal of temporary S1 forms for UK citizens moving abroad before retirement age “must be overturned” because it “is a retrograde step”.

He added: “The Green Party are very positive about the role expats can play in shaping and engaging in political life back in the UK and our current single MP in Westminster Caroline Lucas has actively supported the rights of UK citizens living overseas during her time in office.”

He noted that this included her being one of the 20 MPs who signed Sir Roger Gale’s Early Day Motion to axe the regulation restricting the WFP to people in named colder countries (not including France) before the closing date for it to potentially trigger a debate.

He said: “The failure of so many of her fellow MPs from all parties meant that the issue never got debated, but the Green Party remain fully supportive of the campaign to protect the payment for expats in the EU. Much of mainland France has lower average winter temperatures than the South West of England and we consider it to be discriminatory under EU rules to refuse payment of WFA to people moving outside the UK in the EU or to give it to those in certain countries and not others.”

While it was therefore stated by Mr Clarke to be the party's general policy to support maintaining WFP for people elsewhere in the EU, and notably in France, Connexion notes this is not an explicit manifesto commitment and he was unable to clarify why one Green candidate, Cathrine Simmons for Torridge and West Devon, told a Connexion reader by email "I am not in favour of expatriate UK pensioners receiving it, especially if they live a hot country". The manifesto does, however, make a general pledge to "keep the pensioners' WFP"; it also promises all pensioners abroad would receive the same pensions, overturning the current freeze on pensions of people moving to certain (non-EU) parts of the world.

As for the 15-year restriction and the idea of dedicated MPs for expats, Mr Clarke said the party recognises the voting system is outdated and needs to change, and this includes addressing the “unfairness created in relation to expat participation and representation”. He said they welcome the fact that expat James Jackson is Standing in Uxbridge and South Ruislip as a protest against the 15-year rule as they believe he is raising “important issues”.

In practice, the party supports the creation, as soon as possible, of a new commission to draft a written constitution for the UK, which would also look at electoral changes taking account of grassroots feelings, Mr Clarke said.

“We would hope that together with expat groups abroad we can ensure that overseas voters voices are heard loud and clear when determining how the UK should be governed in future years.

“I know that a lot of Green Party members are very supportive of removing the 15-year limit on expat voting as it seems arbitrary and against the principle of equal access to democracy across the union, likewise the idea of greater representation for expats either through expat MPs or a change to the current system is very attractive, but it would be wrong for us to second guess a commission’s work led by the people, in which we would hope expats would fully contribute.”

More on their policies can be found here: Green manifesto

Liberal Democrats:

The Liberal Democrats do not plan an EU referendum “unless there is further treaty change involving material transfer of sovereignty away from the UK”, in which case an in/out one would be held but the party “would be campaigning for in”, said spokesman Matthew Sanders.

When it comes to the 15-year rule and expat MPs the party does not have a fixed policy, however Mr Sanders stated they are “the party that is most pro-political reform” and are “never afraid to challenge the status quo, so we are always happy to hear the arguments on things like this”.

He added: “We are keen to look at the rules on voting rights, including the 15-year limit on expatriates voting in UK general elections, to make sure the system is as fair as possible for everyone.”

This is borne out by the party manifesto, which refers to "exploring options to strengthen and simplify the voting rights of UK citizens living abroad and to address disenfranchisement experienced by some".

The Lib Dems are one of the more pro-European parties, and when it comes to the British economy they claim to represent a middle way between a Conservative platform that they say involves too many cuts, and a Labour one that they say involves borrowing too much.

Mr Sanders said: “For the Liberal Democrats, internationalism and a positive, healthy relationship with Europe are at the heart of our DNA as a party. We believe that remaining as a member of the EU will ensure that Britain can project strength on the world stage in everything from trade talks to tackling climate change and enforcing economic sanctions.

“That commitment to Europe sits squarely alongside the Liberal Democrats’ determination to continue our work at home in creating a stronger economy and a fairer society. We will build on what we have already achieved in government to balance the budget by 2018, protect the economic recovery and bring down Britain’s debt.

“The Lib Dems have taken a brave and unique stance against the worrying rise of anti-European/anti-foreigner sentiment embodied by UKIP. Nick Clegg was the only party leader prepared to take on Nigel Farage’s views in a live television debate, in order to defend Britain’s vital ongoing role within the EU.

“The Lib Dems are fully supportive of the rights of the half a million or so British people who have chosen to live and work in France.”

The party provided a quote from its leader, Nick Clegg, who said: “British expats in France have first-hand experience of the benefits of being part of a larger community, and how that can enrich all our lives.

“We want the UK to remain a vocal and committed member of the EU, so that we can fight for a stronger economy and British jobs, creating a fairer society with opportunities for everyone. I urge everyone living in France who is entitled to vote in the coming General Election to make sure their voice is heard.”

Other policies in its manifesto include removing WFP from pensioners paying the top rate of UK tax and lowering the voting age to 16 for elections and referendums.

For more see: Lib Dem manifesto

Conservatives:

The Conservatives previously stressed to Connexion their pledge to remove the 15-year voting rule as the main policy they wished to draw expats’ attention to for the coming elections, however on this occasion they asked that we refer to their manifesto for their policies.

A spokesman also provided quotes from a speech by leader David Cameron, in which he urged voters not to “waste the past five years”, but to “build on the progress we have made”. Mr Cameron also stressed that their policies offer “security at every stage of life”.

The party’s manifesto states it considers the EU to be “too big, bossy and bureaucratic” and says it would aim to reclaim some power from Brussels. It pledges to hold an in/out referendum before the end of 2017.

The Conservatives also pledge to end the 15-year limit on the expat vote. However the party is not able to confirm to Connexion whether it could ensure the latter takes place in time for long-term expats to take part in the referendum.

Building on recent efforts, they say they would continue to work to get more expats registered to vote.

The Conservatives also wish to remove the UK’s link to the European Court of Human Rights as the ultimate court of appeal on human rights, replacing this with a new “British Bill of Rights” which the party says would “restore common sense”.

The manifesto states the party would maintain its Winter Fuel Payment “temperature test”, “so that expats in hot countries no longer receive it”.

For more see: Conservative manifesto (scroll to the bottom for a full PDF document).

Labour:

Labour’s manifesto states the party thinks EU membership is “central to our prosperity and security”, but it is in favour of “institutional reforms” in the EU to “build trust” and it would “work to strengthen the influence of national parliaments over EU legislation”. It also “guarantees no powers will be transferred to Brussels without an in/out referendum”.

Concerning the WFP it would not change the current arrangements, and would also remove it from the richest 5% of pensioners.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Labour values the connections that Britain’s expats build between the places they live and the communities they come from. A Labour government will seek to build on those connections, to strengthen cultural and economic links that can help more British businesses to export to the world.

“A Labour government will continue to offer support and protection to UK expats through a strong, worldwide network of British embassies and consulates and we have a plan to return Britain to a leadership role in a reformed EU and protect jobs and investment by staying in the EU.

“The principle that British expats should only be able to vote in UK elections for a limited time was first established in 1985 by the Conservative government of the day. The original limit was set at five years, but now British citizens living abroad can register to vote in UK parliamentary elections for 15 years after leaving the UK.

“When Parliament last adjusted the limit in 2002, it reconfirmed the basic principle that time-limiting overseas voting rights remains appropriate. Labour has no plans to change that. And because there is less money around we cannot continue to pay WFPs to the richest 5% of pensioners, but we have no plans to undo other changes to the WFP made by this government.”

Referring to their policies for the UK as a whole, the spokesman said theirs would benefit more “working families” because “the Conservatives choose to prioritise those at the top”.

More details here: Labour manifesto.

Ukip:

Ukip did not respond to Connexion’s request for information. The party stands on a platform including coming out of the EU. It also states it would not even remain in the wider European Economic Area or European Free Trade Area as long as they are bound to treaties with a principle of free movement of labour.

More details here: Ukip policies

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