‘Votes for life’ bill lost as Tory MP keeps on talking

A bill to give the vote back to more than a million Britons living overseas long-term has been lost as a Conservative MP spent so long talking that it ran out of discussion time.

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The proposal was a private member’s bill (PMB), meaning it has limited debate time.

There are now no more days scheduled at the House of Commons when MPs are sitting and can debate it.

It means Britons living abroad for more than 15 years will almost certainly be excluded from any new Brexit referendum, as they were in 2016.

Dr Susan Collard of Sussex University, an expert on overseas voting, called it a “travesty of democracy”.

Ending the 15-year limit was a Conservative promise in the last two manifestos.

Even so, the government chose to implement it by supporting a time-limited PMB, first introduced in July 2017.

Dr Collard contacted Con­nexion several days before the debate, a last stage before it passed to the Lords.

She said: “Philip Davies, a Tory filibuster specialist, has put down a lot of amendments against the bill suggesting he is going to try to talk it out, even though he is in theory on the government side.

“It’s obvious – as an arch-Brexiteer – he is gunning for the bill as a way of getting at the government over [the delay to] Brexit, tit for tat.”

As predicted, the bill was “talked out” by Mr Davies, a member of the ERG hard-right Eurosceptic group.

She said there is an urgent need to reform the PMB process.

The government has reiterated its support for ending the 15-year rule but it now requires a new bill.

Dr Collard said the support does not mean much, given the uncertainty of whether the government will survive to the next planned election in 2022.

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, a supporter of the rights of Britons abroad, said he will try to get an official government bill on this subject into the next Queen’s Speech.

He contacted Connexion to say he would do his best, though it might be difficult because of the Brexit backlog of work.

“Votes for life” is opposed by the Labour Party, which cites the difficulty and expense of identifying and registering long-term expatriates.

The Liberal Democrats support the move but want overseas constituencies, which the current government has ruled out, saying a link must be maintained with a UK constituency.

The bill included a rule that Britons overseas could register if they proved they had previously lived in a UK constituency.

The current rule for those abroad less than 15 years requires them to have been previously registered.

Labour and Lib Dem MPs have raised concerns in the past that ending the rule would also affect a law, dating from 2000, which says large political party donations may only be made by those registered to vote in the UK.

Following the bill’s failure, The Guardian focused on that, quoting “anti-corruption campaigners and Labour MPs” as saying the government supports “votes for life” so that rich tax exiles can give donations to the Conser­vative Party.

Its sources attacked the bill as being “representation without taxation”.

Disenfranchised voters are estimated to number more than a million, and most are not “rich tax exiles”.

The UK is one of the few developed democracies not to have “votes for life” for its citizens.