Expat voting bill clears first hurdle

A bill that would allow all British expats to vote in upcoming national elections, no matter where they live and for how long they’ve lived there, has passed its first hurdle.

Yesterday, the proposal, made by Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, was given permission by MPs in the House of Commons to proceed to the next stage, and will now receive a second reading in Parliament scheduled for 6th March.

Currently, British expats are barred from voting in UK elections if they have lived outside of the country for longer than 15 years – a rule that blocks an estimated 1 million out of 5.5 million expats from voting. But Clifton-Brown, amongst others, believes this rule is unfair and that all British citizens should be entitled to vote regardless of where they are domiciled.

“I believe this to be incredibly unfair and unjustified when the people that have lived abroad for more than 15 years are people that have decided to move to a different country having paid into this country’s system for their whole working life and who still have strong connections to the UK,” said Clifton-Brown in a Commons speech yesterday, “Why should they, after all of that, be disfranchised from their country of origin?”

The MP said that that there are only three countries that have stricter rules on overseas voting than Britain – Ireland, Greece and Malta. In these countries no expatriate citizens are entitled to any votes.

While it is believed that there is broad support to abolish the ’15-year rule’  due to the slim window of time between the bill’s second reading and Parliament being dissolved ahead of the general election in May it is unlikely that this will be passed into law any time soon.

Currently, only around 32,000 of Britain’s overseas expats have registered to vote in UK elections, a figure that Clifton-Brown described as “disappointingly low”, although he argued that this was no basis for denying expats their “rights.”

Article published 3rd December 2014