Updated 3 March 2021: Well, it’s three years since the last update and the commitment still hasn’t come to fruition but in today’s budget, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has confirmed that British nationals living abroad for more than 15 years will at last be able to vote in UK elections. Whether one thinks that those who’ve moved away should have the right to vote in their country of birth or not, it does seem that this long-promised but undelivered commitment will at last provide that right for those who want it with the Treasury Press Office confirming that legislation will be laid before Parliament this summer to enact the change in the law.
Updated 9 February 2018: The British Government has restated its commitment to ending the current 15 year time limit on British expats registering as overseas electors. The Cabinet Office statement says that as well as removing a time limit on the right to vote for UK citizens living abroad, the government intends to enfranchise any British expats who was previously resident or registered to vote in the UK. This is part of the government’s wider ambition to strengthen the foundation of democracy and continually increase voter registration by ensuring every voter’s voice is heard. The statement says:
Combined, these changes will mean millions of UK citizens overseas will be eligible to register to vote. British expats – under existing laws – have the lowest level of voter registration of any group.
The government published the policy statement “A democracy that works for everyone: British citizens overseas” in October 2016 asking for views on its detailed plans to introduce votes for life. It set out how it would scrap the rule that bars British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in UK Parliamentary Elections, as set out in the government’s manifesto.
The response to the consultation about the votes for life policy statement will be published on GOV.UK today, ahead of the second reading debate in the House of Commons on 23 February of Glyn Davies MP Private Members’ Overseas Electors Bill.
The policy statement attracted a range of responses from the electoral community and the public.
Minister for the Constitution Chloe Smith said that “participation in our democracy is a fundamental part of being British, no matter how far you have travelled from the UK. It is right that we should remove the 15-year time limit on voting rights of British citizens living overseas and allow those who previously lived in the UK the chance to participate in our democracy. Expats retain strong links with the United Kingdom: they may have family here, and indeed they may plan to return here in the future. Modern technology and cheaper air travel has transformed the ability of expats to keep in touch with their home country. Following the British people’s decision to leave the EU, we need to strengthen ties with countries around the world and show the UK is an outward-facing nation. Our expat community has an important role to play in helping Britain expand international trade, especially given two-thirds of expats live outside the EU.”
Original post 7 October 2016: The British Government has published detailed plans on how it will deliver its commitment to return the right to vote in parliamentary elections to all expats. To what will be inevitable criticism that it comes too late to those who wished to vote against Brexit, Minister for the Constitution Chris Skidmore has today announced that the policy seeks to remove the current rule that means British citizens abroad can only vote for 15 years from the point they were last registered to vote in the UK.
Skidmore says, however, that “Following the British people’s decision to leave the EU, we now need to strengthen ties with countries around the world and show the UK is an outward-facing nation. Our expat community has an important role to play in helping Britain expand international trade, especially given two-thirds of expats live outside the EU. Expats retain strong links with the United Kingdom: they may have family here, and indeed they may plan to return here in the future. Modern technology and cheaper air travel has transformed the ability of expats to keep in touch with their home country.”
The policy seeks to give a lifelong right to vote to all British citizens overseas who were previously resident or registered to vote in the UK. It will ensure that all eligible overseas electors are able to register to vote and renew their registration in a convenient and timely fashion while maintaining the integrity of the electoral register and guarding against fraud. Currently, overseas electors will remain entitled to vote in parliamentary elections, but not in any other elections (such as local elections or elections to the devolved legislatures).
The government welcomes feedback from any interested party on these proposals. Comments on the proposed policy can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The policy document itself can be viewed HERE, and is the latest in a series of measures, the FCO says, to make it easier for overseas voters to take part in British democracy. During the last Parliament, the government introduced online voter registration, making it quick, easy and secure to register anywhere in the world. The government also took steps to extend the electoral timetable for postal ballots to be issued earlier to ensure that as many electors as possible can participate in their democracy.