David Cameron’s Tory government is planning to drive through a new law to allow a UK yes/no referendum on staying in the European Union before the end of 2017.
As part of 21 draft bills announced in the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, the vote on whether to stay in Europe was mooted as a measure to give British voters the right to make the decision.
Guidance notes published with the speech made clear that those allowed to vote in the referendum will include all those who had the right to vote in the 2015 General Election.
This has dashed the hopes of thousands of expats who could not vote in the election as they lost their right to take part because rules ban anyone who has spent more than 15 years abroad from taking part.
The notes specify Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar, British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 years old who are resident in the UK are eligible to vote, plus UK citizens who have been resident overseas for less than 15 years.
Vote for Life draft bill
The Conservatives did make a 2015 election manifesto promise to restore the right to vote for expats who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years.
Cameron has kept that promise, but made clear that a Vote for Life Bill for expats will not come into force before the end of 2017.
This second bill will allow longstanding expats to vote in UK and European elections held in the UK.
Measures will also change election procedures to make electoral registration and voting easier for expats in the constituency where they were last resident or registered in the UK.
More than 100,000 expats registered to vote in the 2015 election, but complained their votes were not counted because poll papers took too long to arrive or were not included in the count.
According to the think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research, about 5.6 million British expats live overseas.
More than 1 million reside in Australia, while Spain, France, Canada and the USA also have large expat communities.
Expat enclaves of more than 1,000 people are listed in more than 100 countries.
Electoral lobbyists Votes for Expats urged expats to email their Tory MPs prior to the Queen’s Speech to try to urge them to pressure the government into passing the Vote for Life draft bill before the referendum.