UK Government Considers Changes to Expat Voting Rules

Cabinet ministers in the United Kingdom have indicated that British citizens living overseas may be subject to changes that impact their voting rights after pressure was placed on the Government to remove the time limit on their right to vote.

At present any British expatriate who has lived overseas for a period of time exceeding fifteen years is no longer permitted to vote in any major elections. However, cabinet minister Mark Harper, speaking about expat voting rights at a House of Commons select committee revealed that the government in the UK is currently considering changing this legislation: “On the issue of the time limit of 15 years, that’s something the Government is considering at the moment. If we decide that we want to change that, that’s obviously something that we will bring forward for decision in the House… it’ll have to be a legislative change,” he told the committee that had been formed to identify important areas for political and constitutional reform.

While the legislation currently remains the same, the fact that changes are being considered will come as welcome news to many British expatriates, who feel that the discrepancies between their voting rights and those of members of other European countries are unfair. Two expatriates in particular, Italian-based World War Two veteran Harry Shindler and James Preston, who currently lives in Italy, feel so strongly about their rights to retain a vote regardless of where in the world that they live, that they have attempted in the past to take the matter to court on the basis that the voting legislation undermines their basic voting rights.

Although many expatriates have welcomed the news, Anita Rieu-Sicart, a France-based British expatriate, questioned the seriousness with which the matter was being dealt and criticized the time that was dedicated to the issue during the meeting: “I found it somewhat disappointing, as you can imagine, that expat voters were mentioned and dismissed in less than two minutes in this discussion – these are people who very much want to be counted, who really want to vote, and should have the right to vote,” she said.

“However, I suppose one can consider it encouraging, and expats (…) should write in to minister Mark Harper, and others on the select committee”.

Expatriates who feel that the 15 year restriction on their voting rights should be removed are being encouraged to write into constituent’s MPs in order to represent their views on the ways in which the legislation should be reformed.

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