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Votes For Expats Bill Sails Through First Reading

A proposed new law giving expats the right to vote in UK elections regardless of how long they have lived overseas sailed through a first reading in Westminster.

The Overseas Electors Bill passed to the second reading in February 2018 unopposed and without debate.

The bill was proposed by Montgomeryshire Tory MP Glyn Davies, who has already received support from expat campaigners lobbying the government to extend their voting rights.

His bill is aimed at nudging the government into action after promising to expats votes for life.

Current law bars expats from voting in UK elections once they have lived overseas for 15 years.

Unfulfilled Tory promise to expats

The law change was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron as an election pledge, but was dropped by his government.

The Tories promised to publish the bill in May 2015, but failed to do so.

The bill has remained on the back burner even though a policy paper was published in October 2016 laying out the principles of the new measure.

A Houses of Parliament briefing note confirms 264,000 expats are registered to vote in UK parliamentary elections – the highest number ever.

Typically, an expat will register to vote in the last constituency in the UK where they lived before parting overseas.

Commitment but no action

“There are no estimates of how many British nationals living abroad would be eligible to register under the current 15-year rule,” says the briefing note.

The government repeatedly gives expats a commitment to scrap the 15-year rules and to make voting easier for them but has made no further progress.

Last year, former Leader of the House David Lidington explained registering overseas voters was complicated.

“We would have to not just extend the franchise but establish a new system of voter registration, which is not straightforward given that voter registers no longer exist for periods that go back earlier than 15 years. We have to find some way of allocating those individuals to constituencies and verifying a previous place of residence,” he said.

High profile legal challenges by expats have ended without success, both in the UK and Europe.

The details of the Overseas Electors Bill have yet to be published.

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