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Votes for expats: Plan to end UK's 15-year rule

George Mills · 3 Sep 2014, 10:18

Published: 03 Sep 2014 10:18 GMT+02:00

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British expats have long campaigned against the rule which states that once they have lived abroad for longer than 15 years they lose their right to vote back in the UK.

That has left many UK citizens disenfranchised as they are also denied the right to vote in most foreign countries, unless they seek citizenship. 

And this week it appears that at least one political party has answered their call.

While the Liberal Democrats have said they will push for changes on expat voting rights, and there are suggestions some Labour MPs also support a possible scrapping of the current regime, David Cameron’s Tory party has now promised to abolish the rule – if they win the next general election, scheduled for May 2015.

The Tories say they want to protect the rights of citizens overseas who have “contributed to Britain all their lives", according to a Tory spokesman quoted in the Daily Telegraph.

"Millions of British citizens live and work across the globe. Many have worked hard, contributed to Britain all their lives, and have close family living in Britain," said the spokesman.

"Like many other countries, the UK continues to protect British citizens living abroad with its military, embassy network, passport and other services. However, Britain currently restricts the rights of these citizens to vote in general elections," he added.

"If the Conservative Party wins the next general election, we will remove this cap and extend it to a full right as a British citizen to vote in British elections for life."

"I am pleased with the news but I'm afraid it doesn't go far enough," Alicante-based expat voting rights campaigner Margaret Hales told The Local.

"The Tory party's decision to include a promise to scrap the 15-year-rule in their election manifesto means Spain-based expats are looking at 2020 before they actually get the chance to vote, as UK elections only take place every five years," Hales said.

"Unfortunately for many of this country's older expats that will simply be too late."

Hales is now calling on the UK government to pass a bill scrapping the controversial rule in parliament before the next general elections, planned for 2015.

In January the EU Commission said Britain was “punishing” its expats for leaving the country by denying them the right to vote for life.

Story continues below…

The government is hoping to persuade more expats to enroll on the electoral register before the next general election, but a recent push to boost numbers was deemed a failure.

However the pledge by the Tory party to end the 15-year rule may well persuade expats that it is worth signing up to the register.

To download the form and to find out more information about voting you can visit the website www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.

It is believed there are around 5.5 million British expats living abroad, with some 800,000 in Spain, but only a tiny portion of them are registered to vote back home.

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

George Mills (george.mills@thelocal.com)

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