Expats have lost their legal challenge to force the government into letting them vote in the Brexit referendum.
Campaigner for expat rights Harry Shindler, 94, who lives in Italy and lawyer Jacquelyn MacLennan, who lives in Belgium, were granted a judicial review of the government’s ruling in London’s High Court last week.
Their legal team claimed the British law banning expats who had lived abroad more than 15 years was unfair because the June 23 referendum directly affected up to 2 million expats in Europe and many could not vote.
The ban was despite a manifesto promise made by Prime Minister David Cameron pledging that the ban would be listed.
He has reaffirmed his promise but resolved the ban would stay in place for the Brexit vote.
Supreme Court appeal
However, the High Court rejected the expat claim and decided the ban did not contravene any right to freedom of movement under EU human rights rules.
Lawyers for Shindler and MacLennan say the pair will not give up the fight and will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The couple claim that if expats votes are blocked from the referendum, they could become illegal immigrants overnight in European Union countries.
This uncertainty affects their right to live in Europe, as well as other rights, such as freedom to work and travel across borders.
Government lawyers argued the impact of a vote to leave Europe was unpredictable, but did not affect anyone’s freedom of movement within the EU.
The hearing was the latest in a string of bitter court battles between expats and the government.
Unfair treatment for expats
Expat groups claim the British government unfairly treats millions of expats once they have left the country to live overseas.
One fiercely argued issue is frozen state pensions.
Unless an expat’s new home is in one of a restricted list of countries, state pensions are paid at the same rate as the first payment for life.
If the country is on the list, the amount is index-linked and increases in line with state pensions in the UK.
Expats challenged this ruling in European courts some years ago, but had their case rejected.
However, lobbying to change the law has continued since with no result.