Will Brexit affect way Britons in France vote in UK election?

People have to sign up to the electoral register before midnight on June 18 to be able to take part in the July general election

General election 2024 sign outside Palace of Westminster in London - how British voters in France can participate in uk election
People have until June 18 at midnight to register to vote in the UK general election
Published Last updated

Thousands of people who were not eligible to vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum regained their right to vote in January 2024, however the number of registrations to vote in the general election in July remains low. 

The UK general election will take place on July 4, and voters abroad have until Tuesday June 18 at midnight to register. After registering they must apply for a proxy or postal vote. 

Read more: UK general election: How to register and vote as a British citizen abroad 

This 2024 election is the first after the end of the unpopular ‘15-year rule’ that disqualified those who had been living abroad for 15 years or more from voting in UK elections. 

The campaign to end this rule, known as the ‘Votes for life campaign’, was ultimately successful in January 2024, too late for many Britons abroad to have their say on Brexit, but in time for the 2024 general election.

However, after an initial surge on May 23 when over 9,000 people registered to vote, the numbers have dwindled to between 2 - 4,000 registrations a day.

Of the estimated 3.5million Britons living abroad, only around 200,000 have registered so far - lower than the number of registrations in 2017 (285,000) when longer-term residents abroad were not eligible to vote.

The Electoral Commission's communications director Craig Westwood said there is still time for people to register online before the June 18 deadline.

“We know that there are eligible voters all around the world, so we are calling on anyone with friends and family abroad to help spread the word, and let them know to register before the deadline.”

The fight for ‘votes for life’

Ultimately, ‘votes for life’, which has been a Conservative policy since the party's manifesto for 2015, were granted by the Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government, perhaps in an attempt to win over Britons abroad, many of whom appeared to have deserted the party after Brexit. 

Indeed, only 6% of Britons in the EU voting in the 2019 general election voted for the party compared to 19.4% in 2015 and 12% in 2017, according to a study by Sue Collard and Professor Paul Webb of Sussex University.

Many former Conservative party voters had switched allegiance to Labour or the Lib Dems, with a combined 67% voting for these parties in 2015 and 85% in 2019.

Last minute appeals

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats released a video on June 16 calling on Britons abroad to "vote for the only party that wants to rebuild relations with Europe".

He went on to emphasise the Liberal Democrats’ internationalist credentials, saying “we believe in countries working together [and] are the only party which wants to rebuild Britain’s relationship with Europe in a proper and secure way.”

His party supports the return of the Erasmus student exchange programme and has a return to the EU as a longer-term objective.

The Labour Party has also spoken about its plans to “deepen ties with European friends” and “tear down unnecessary barriers to trade”.

The Conservative Party has promised to establish a Minister for British Citizens Overseas.

The relatively low number of registrations this year would certainly have irked Harry Shindler. 

The World War Two veteran and tireless campaigner for the rights of Britons abroad died aged 101 in February 2023, before the fight for ‘votes for life’ was won.

Read more: War veteran and Britons abroad campaigner Harry Shindler dies at 101 

“It is a question of principle and the right to vote is in the European Convention on Human Rights,” Mr Shindler told The Connexion in 2011.

“The government says we have broken with the UK, but I have not. I still get my pension from the UK and for someone of my age that is one of the most important aspects of life."