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BREXIT

15-year rule: Long-term Britons in Europe to get right to vote in UK elections

The UK government has announced it plans to scrap the rule that bars British citizens, who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in UK elections, meaning all Brits living in Europe will be able to vote.

15-year rule: Long-term Britons in Europe to get right to vote in UK elections
Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/ AFP)

The new announcement was made in the fine print of the UK government’s Budget that was presented this week.

Paragraph 2.41 of the Treasury Red Book, which sets out the government’s planned spending in detail, says: “Overseas Electors – the government is providing an additional £2.5m to remove the limit preventing British citizens who live overseas from voting after 15 years.”

Those affected will be allowed to vote in the constituencies where they lived before leaving the country, as eligible voters do currently.

Since 2002 British citizens living abroad for more than 15 years have been barred from voting in UK elections. That ban even included the 2016 Brexit referendum, despite the fact the outcome of the vote directly impacted the lives of UK citizens living in the EU.

In recent years Conservative governments have at various times announced moves to end the so-called 15-year rule but the ban remains in place.

The government has told UK media that new legislation will be put to parliament later this year so the reform can be pushed through.

The British in Europe campaign group said: “We have heard this several times before but it would be very welcome if it was finally scrapped.”

However there the announcement was met with a  certain amount of understandable scepticism from Britons living abroad, after numerous false promises in recent years.

“Believe it when I’m at Embassy casting a vote,” tweeted John Mills a Briton living in Stockholm.

While others understandably lamented the fact they could not vote in the 2016 referendum.

“The most important vote for us was the 2016 referendum. Those of us in this category were not allowed to vote. The outcome has had a huge impact on @BritishInEurope It’s a bit late now,” tweeted Nicola, a Briton living in Brussels.

The campaign to end the 15-year rule has been led by Harry Shindler a 99-year-old WWII veteran who settled in Italy around 40 years ago.

Reacting to the news he tweeted: “It’s very good news that the UK’s 15 year voting rule is ending as part of #Budget2021. We fought to defend our right to vote in WW2 and now we will get to use it. This is an important day for freedom.”

Sue Wilson from Bremain in Spain added: “Naturally, there is still much cynicism about the government’s intentions – after all, we’ve been here before and been disappointed when manifesto promises were broken – but there’s definitely more positivity in the air this time around. Let’s hope his optimism is well placed and that Harry Shindler sees his long-lost voting rights returned in time for his forthcoming 100th birthday. I can’t think of a better birthday present.”

Member comments

  1. A bit late now. We were promised this before the Brexit referendum. It would have been helpful to have had this right for the past two elections too.

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BREXIT

‘Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed’ – How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

A new in-depth survey on British nationals living in the EU has revealed the impact that Brexit has had upon their lives, and their attitudes to their country of origin.

'Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed' - How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

The study, conducted by academics at Lancaster and Birmingham universities, provides a snapshot of how Brits in the EU live – their age, family, work and education – and how they feel about the UK in the six years since the Brexit vote.

Unsurprisingly, it revealed that Brexit has had a major practical impact on the lives of Brits living in the EU – who are now subject to third-country rules and require residency cards or visas and face restrictions on voting and onward movement within the EU.

But the survey’s 1,328 respondents were also asked about their emotions towards the country of their birth.

Eighty percent of respondents said it had changed their feelings towards the UK.

A British woman living in Norway said she felt: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British, ashamed that I didn’t try hard enough, or appreciate my EU citizenship.”

“Since Brexit I am disappointed in the UK. I am worried, and no longer feel like I have the same affinity for the country. It’s a shame because I love ‘home’ but the country feels so polarised,” added a British woman in her 30s living in Denmark.

An Austrian resident with dual British-Irish nationality said: “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country from how I left it.

“So much so I feel more connected with my second nationality (Irish) despite the fact I never grew up in Ireland. It’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK and what continues to happen. It’s like watching a house on fire from afar.”

The experience of living abroad during the pandemic also affected people’s feelings towards the UK, with 43 percent of people saying the UK’s handling of the Covid crisis affected their feelings towards the county.

A British woman in her 50s living in Spain said: “It was shambolic. Too late, too little, mixed messaging, lack of seriousness. So many deaths after what should have been a head start.”

A British man living in Greece described it simply as “a shit show”.

In addition to the Brexit effect, the survey also provided interesting and detailed data on the lives and profiles of Brits who live in the EU;

  • 69 percent had degree-level education
  • 77 percent worked in a professional or managerial role
  • 53 percent are of working age
  • 59 percent have been living in their country of residence for more than five years
  • 78 percent said it was very unlikely that they would move countries in the next five years 
  • The most common reasons for moving country were retirement (40 percent), family reasons (35 percent) and work (30 percent)

Almost all respondents said that Brexit had impacted their lives, with the loss of freedom of movement being the most common effect mentioned.

One man said: “My original plan (pre-2016) was to move to France on retirement, due in 2026. Brexit caused me to move sooner, in order to retain my European citizenship rights. The pandemic helped (indirectly) in that I got locked down in France in 2020, which enabled me to earn residence under the pre-Brexit rules. I had been talking to my employer about doing something similar before the pandemic broke.”

“I moved to France in 2020 in order to protect my right to live and work in France post-Brexit. My migration is 100 percent a result of Brexit,” said one American-British dual national.

Other respondents talked about the post-Brexit admin necessary to gain residency status in their country, financial losses due to the weakening of the pound against the euro and the loss on onward freedom of movement – meaning that Brits resident in one EU country no longer have the right to move to another.

The report also highlighted that only 60 percent of respondents had changed their legal status by security residency since Brexit.

For some Brits in the EU this is not necessary if they already have citizenship of their country of residence (or another EU country such as Ireland) but the report’s author highlighted that: “It may also offer an early indicator that within this population there are some who may find themselves without legal residence status, with consequences in the future for their right to residence, and access to healthcare, welfare and work (among other services).”

READ ALSO What to do if you have missed the Brexit deadline in France 

In total 42 percent of respondents were completely disenfranchised – the 15-year rule means they can no longer vote in the UK, while the loss of EU citizenship means that they cannot vote in European or local elections in their country of residence.

The British government has recently announced the ending of the 15-year rule, giving voting rights to all UK nationals, no matter how long they live outside the UK. 

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