Lifetime votes for Britons abroad almost certain as new bill announced
Votes campaigner Harry Shindler, 99, welcomed the measure’s inclusion in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech; however he is calling on Britons to lobby Labour MPs over the party’s opposition to the change
Britons who have moved abroad are now almost certain to obtain lifetime votes in British parliamentary elections, says an expert in Britons voting abroad.
Dr Sue Collard of the University of Sussex said the inclusion of ‘votes for life’ in an electoral bill outlined in this week’s Queen’s Speech means the long-hoped-for measure is now very likely to be voted through in this session of parliament.
The change will also mean Britons living abroad long-term will be able to take part in referendums, such as the 2016 Brexit vote, linked to the parliamentary franchise. The UK is one of the few western countries to have a limit on voting for its citizens who move abroad.
Veteran votes campaigner Harry Shindler, 99, who lives in Italy, told The Connexion he still hopes the bill will be prioritised so he sees the change by his 100th birthday in July – however he is willing to be patient a little longer if need be.
The legal change ending the rule that Britons who move abroad lose their parliamentary vote after 15 years is promised in a new Electoral Integrity Bill, which also includes other measures to improve the voting process.
Unlike previous occasions where the measure was side-lined to a mention in supporting notes to the speech, the bill was announced by the Queen in the main speech this time.
The notes clarify that the bill includes ‘votes for life’ and also say it will make it easier for Britons abroad to vote.
Dr Collard said: “I can’t imagine there being a significant revolt within the Tory party to vote against it. There are a few of them who think if you live abroad you’ve made your choice and shouldn’t be able to vote, but Tory whips tend to get their own way. So I think they will get it through without any difficulty. Labour can oppose it all they like.”
Mr Shindler said: “This has taken 20 years but it’s been worth it. Now millions of Brits will be entitled to enjoy British democracy whereas they hadn’t been before.
“Now it’s been dealt with and we are grateful for the action taken by the government on our behalf. We hope there will be no snags between now and polling day when we shall be part of the British nation once again and will go and vote.”
He added: “My 100th birthday is in July and I’d hope it will be over by then, but we’ve been patient for 20 years and can be patient for another couple of months if necessary.”
Mr Shindler said he is the oldest member of the Labour Party, having joined in 1936, and is appears absurd to him that the Labour Party continues to oppose votes for Britons abroad despite having origins in the Chartist movement which fought to extend voting rights.
“I would ask members of the party to speak out and tell the parliamentary party that this is not traditional Labour policy at all.”
They should contact Labour MPs to ask them to support the measure, he said.
The promised voting simplifications have not yet been outlined, but Dr Collard said recurring issues for Britons abroad include the short time-frame to return postal votes. She has proposed downloadable ballots as one solution to speed the process up.
It is also unclear what the criteria will be for being registered. However UK tradition usually links voting to at least having lived in the country at some point, so prior voter registration in the UK may be required, Dr Collard said.
She said there was little time now for the bill to be introduced and voted on before parliament breaks for the summer, though it was technically possible.
Earlier this year in the budget, the UK government set aside funds to help the implementation of the measure, raising hopes legislation was imminent.