A Bill calling for internet voting for expats and the withdrawal of the 15-year time limit on their participation in UK elections was withdrawn after a short debate at Westminster.
Chris Chope, MP for Christchurch, Dorset, withdrew a private members bill calling for the government to scrap the time limit.
Constitutional Reform minister John Penrose told Parliament that he believed as many as 6 million expat voters could vote in British and European elections, but less than 2 million had signed up to the electoral roll and most of the rest were excluded by the time limit.
The Tories promised in their election manifesto that the time limit would be scrapped, but have failed to do so in time for the UK Brexit referendum in June.
Chope – with cross party support from Labour – wanted to get rid of the time limit and to introduce internet voting for expats.
Minister promises new law
Penrose argued that the government supported his bill in principle, but felt that internet voting was too insecure.
“Parliamentary draftsmen are working on a bill to scrap this time limit as we speak,” he said.
“The 15-year limit is arbitrary and meaningless. Many countries have similar time limits, but the amount of time varies and some have none.
“However, the government cannot back this bill because we feel some of the content has not been considered in detail and that more time is needed to talk about wider issues such as how to encourage more electoral participation across the board, not just from expats.”
Chope welcomed backing from Labour and told the minister he would withdraw the bill, providing the new government bill was included in the next Queen’s Speech.
Legal challenge threat
“If not, I shall be bringing this bill back to parliament to pressure the government to keep their promises,” he said.
The bill has support from British expats around the world, but thousands are upset they have no vote in the referendum if they have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years even though the result of the in/out vote affects their status as European Union citizens.
The Association of British Expats in Italy has announced a legal challenge may be launched against the UK government if the time limit is not lifted in time for the referendum vote.