Judges at Britain’s highest court have thrown out a claim from expats to allow them to vote in the Brexit referendum.
The decision at London’s Supreme Court means expats who left Britain more than 15 years ago cannot take part in the referendum on June 23.
They argued that they should have a say in the decision about if Britain leaves the European Union as they are among the people most affected by the result.
Around 2 million British expats worldwide are affected by the ruling, with hundreds of thousands living in other EU countries.
In a short hearing at the Supreme Court, an appeal was thrown out against decisions not to uphold the expat claim in the High Court and Court of Appeal.
UK law takes precedence
“We sympathise with the claimants and the concerns they have about not having a voice in a referendum which could affect their lives so much,” said deputy president of the Supreme Court Lady Hale
“Despite this, we can see no legal basis for challenging the law.”
The legal challenge was led by Harry Shindler, 94, who lives in Italy, and lawyer Jacquelyn McLennan, 54, from Brussels. Both are British expats caught by the 15-year rule and now cannot vote in the referendum.
“This is disappointing and unfair, but the legal action ends here because we do not want to see the referendum cancelled,” said McLennan after the hearing.
The Supreme Court considered whether EU or British law took precedence over the government ruling that 15-year expats were barred from the referendum.
Expat claims dismissed
Shindler and McLennan claimed the government decision detracted from their freedom of movement to live in another EU state, was disproportionate and that the British courts should take action to remedy their plight.
The courts disagreed, stating British election law took precedent over EU law, and as such no breach of their freedom of movement or human rights had taken place.
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged a new law before the end of this Parliament that will take away the 15-year rule and give all British expats the right to vote in elections regardless of the time they have spent out of the country.
The Supreme Court decision affects all expats worldwide who have not lived in Britain for the past 15 years, not just those in the EU.