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‘Votes for life’ for British citizens living abroad

27 May 2021 3:18 PM | Tim Reynolds (Administrator)

British citizens who have moved abroad are to be given ‘votes for life’ as the Government scraps the arbitrary 15-year limit on the voting rights. New measures announced today (27 May) will also make it easier for overseas electors to remain registered to vote for longer. The two measures together, should empower more British citizens living outside the UK to participate in Britain’s democratic processes.

New measures announced in the recent Queen’s Speech will make it easier for British citizens who have moved abroad to participate in the UK’s democratic processes. Decisions made in the UK Parliament on foreign policy, defence, immigration, pensions and trade deals affect British citizens who live overseas. It is therefore right that they have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections.

Currently, to register as an overseas elector you must be a British citizen and have been registered to vote in UK Parliamentary Elections in the UK within the last 15 years or, in some cases, you may register if you were too young to have been registered before you left the UK.

Rule changes

Today (27 May) the Government has set out further details on plans to scrap the arbitrary rule that prevents British citizens from voting in General Elections if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years. The changes, which will form part of the forthcoming Elections Bill, will also include measures to enable overseas electors to stay registered to vote for longer, with an absent voting arrangement in place.

British Ambassador to Belgium, Martin Shearman, commented: “This is great news for all UK nationals living in Belgium. The issue of having the right to vote for life has been raised many times during my conversations with British nationals in Belgium, so I understand how important this is for them. This will ensure that Brits in Belgium, who still have deep ties with the UK, can continue to participate in the British democratic process, no matter how long ago they left the UK.”

The proposals fulfil a manifesto commitment to deliver ‘votes for life’, extending the voting franchise for UK Parliamentary General Elections to all British citizens living overseas who have been previously registered or previously resident in the UK.

Proposed rules

The new rules will mean overseas electors can stay registered for longer, including with an absent voting arrangement in place, requiring them to renew their registration details once every three years, rather than annually.

Electors will be able to reapply for a postal vote or refresh their proxy vote at the same time as renewing their voter registration, streamlining the process and helping to ensure overseas electors have appropriate voting arrangements in place ahead of an election.

Those who are entitled to vote should always be able to exercise that right freely, securely and in an informed way. The Government's wider Elections Bill also aims to improve access to voting for electors with disabilities; prevent foreign interference by hostile actors; tackle electoral fraud by post, proxy, in polling stations or through intimidation and undue influence; and increase transparency and accountability within our elections.

Overseas electors will only be entitled to register in respect of one UK address. Clear rules will be put in place regarding the address under which an overseas elector may register, while also ensuring that the individual continues to have a demonstrable connection to a UK address. Individuals will apply to register at the last address at which they were registered, or, if they were never registered, at the last address at which they were resident.

This proof of a last address can be demonstrated in a number of ways: by checking past copies of the electoral register where these are accessible; by checking other local data (e.g., council tax records) which the ERO has access to; through documentary evidence or, failing the above; an attestation from another registered elector.

Overseas electors registered in Great Britain will continue to be able to vote by proxy, by post, or in person if they happen to be in their constituency on polling day.

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