Expat Right To Vote Bill Consigned To The Bin?

Lisa Smith, BA (Hons), CeFA

Parliament has a few days left to salvage the bill scrapping the 15 year voting rule for expats – or it’s back to the drawing board yet again.

A pledge to scrap the ceiling that stops expats who have spent more than 15 years abroad from voting in elections was first put forward by the Tories in 2015 as the Votes for Life Bill.

This was followed by a policy statement in October 2016 which detailed how the ban would be lifted and offering expats a lifelong right to vote in UK Parliamentary elections.

In 2017, the Overseas Electors Bill was introduced as a private members bill by MP Glyn Owen. The bill proposed to lift the 15-year rule and meet the manifesto pledge made three years earlier.

The government claims to remain committed to the bill, but it has stalled in the report stage  since March.

Will Tories save bill?

Then, the bill was scrubbed when Parliament was prorogued, but reinstated when the Supreme Court overturned the prorogation.

Now, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has prorogued Parliament again from October 8 until the Queen’s Speech on October 14.

The bill will die again on prorogation unless final progress is rushed through Parliament.

Announcing the prorogation, Johnson said: “I want to deliver on the people’s priorities.

“Through a Queen’s Speech, the government will set out its plans for the NHS, schools, tackling crime, investing in infrastructure and building a strong economy. We will get Brexit done.”

He made no mention of the 15-year rule or the right to vote for expats.

2.4 million expats disenfranchised

Expats have exhausted legal avenues to challenge the government over the 15-year rule after losing a case in London’s High Court protesting declining their right to vote in the Brexit referendum.

The case was also rejected by the Court of Appeal and was turned down for consideration by the Supreme Court.

Britain is estimated to have around 3 million expats around the world, with around four out of five – 2.4 million people – ineligible to vote under the 15 year rule.

The highest number of expats registered to vote was 264,000 in 2016, which dropped to 125,000 by the end of 2018.

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