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POLITICS

What Britons in Europe need to know about the UK government’s ‘votes for life’ pledge

It's been promised before, but now the UK government says it will act to ensure that British citizens living abroad do not lose their right to vote in the UK even if they have been abroad for over 15 years. Here's what we know about the proposals.

What Britons in Europe need to know about the UK government's 'votes for life' pledge
Photo: Leon Neal/AFP

The move was first announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, with further details announced by the British government today.

But what exactly are the changes and what does “votes for life” really mean?

What are ‘votes for life’?

The new measures will allow British citizens living in another country to continue participating in the democratic process in the UK by retaining their right to vote – no matter where they live or how long they have been outside of the UK.

Currently, British citizens lose their voting rights after living abroad for 15 years.

The changes, which will form part of the Elections Bill, will also make it easier for overseas electors to remain registered for longer through an absent voting arrangement.

This means electors will have to renew their registration details every three years instead of annually.

Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, told The Local: “We have been disappointed many times over, as government manifesto promises came to nought, but this time looks and feels very different. 

“We have a government bill, money was set aside in the recent budget, and there seems to be a plan. 

“I know many will be sceptical after previous disappointments, but I believe we are finally on our way.” 

How can British people overseas use ‘votes for life’?

The new “votes for life” will apply to all British citizens living overseas who have been previously registered to vote or previously resident in the UK.

The absent voting arrangement means individuals will be able to reapply for a postal vote or refresh their proxy vote at the same time as renewing their voter registration.

However, overseas electors will only be entitled to register in respect of one UK address, with clear rules to be put in place surrounding this. The Local has asked the UK government for more details on what these rules will be.

British people wishing to register to vote under the new measures will also have to show a “demonstrable connection” to a UK address, according to the government document.

Furthermore, individuals will have to register at the last address where they were registered to vote, or at the last address where they were a resident.

The government states that someone can demonstrate their last address by checking past copies of the electoral register or local data such as tax records, or by documentary evidence or, “failing the above, an attestation from another registered elector.

The government say “if none of the above are possible, the applicant will not be able to register.”

Why is the UK government making these changes?

Unfortunately this comes too late for many Brits abroad to get a say in the thing that has had the biggest impact on their lives – Brexit – but better late than never.

A press release from the UK government states that decisions made by UK Parliament impacts British citizens who live overseas and so they should have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections.

It specifically mentions decisions made surrounding foreign policy, defence, immigration, pensions and trade deals.

Lord True, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, said: “In an increasingly global and connected world, most British citizens living overseas retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. 

“Many still have family here, have a history of hard work in the UK behind them, and some have even fought for our country.

“These measures support our vision for a truly Global Britain, opening up our democracy to British citizens living overseas who deserve to have their voices heard in our Parliament, no matter where they choose to live.”

Many other countries already give their overseas nationals the right to vote for life and some, including France, have MPs dedicated to representing nationals who live overseas.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

EU sees trouble but no breakdown with Italy far-right in power

The potential emergence of a far-right government in Italy has put the European Union on alert for disruptions, with fears that unity over the war in Ukraine could be jeopardised.

EU sees trouble but no breakdown with Italy far-right in power

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni and the League’s Matteo Salvini are slated to be the big winners in Sunday’s general election on a firmly “Italians First” agenda, in which officials in Brussels largely play the role
of the bogeyman.

The biggest worries concern the economy.

Italy’s massive debt is seen as a threat to European stability if Rome turns its back on the sound financing championed by outgoing prime minister, Mario Draghi, a darling of the EU political establishment.

A victory by Meloni and Salvini would follow fast on an election in Sweden where the virulently anti-migration and eurosceptic Sweden Democrats entered a ruling coalition, just months before the Scandinavian country is due to take over the EU’s rotating presidency.

READ ALSO: Giorgia Meloni’s party will likely win the elections – but will it last?

But officials in Brussels said they would not jump to conclusions about Italy, cautiously hanging on to reassurances made by key right-wing players ahead of the vote.

Giorgia Meloni delivers speech at party rally

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni (Rear C on stage) delivers a speech on September 23, 2022 in Naples. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

“This is not the first time that we risk confronting governments formed with far-right or far-left parties,” said European Commissioner Didier Reynders, a veteran of EU politics.

“Let voters choose their elected representatives. We will react to the actions of the new government and we have instruments at our disposal,” he added.

That was echoed by Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, who warned that Brussels had “tools” to deal with errant member states.

“My approach is that whatever democratic government is willing to work with us, we’re working together,” she said.

Anti-immigration League leader Matteo Salvini condemned the EU chief’s comments on Friday, calling them “squalid threats”.

READ ALSO: How would victory for Italy’s far right impact foreigners’ lives?

‘Benefit of the doubt’

Italy has huge amounts of EU money on the line. It is awaiting nearly 200 billion euros in EU cash and loans as part of the country’s massive share of the bloc’s coronavirus recovery stimulus package.

In order to secure each instalment, the government must deliver on a long list of commitments to reform and cut back spending made by previous administrations.

“To do without the billions from the recovery plan would be suicidal,” said Sebastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors institute.

“We will give them the benefit of the doubt,” said an EU official, who works closely with Italy on economic issues.

and right-wing parties Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia, FdI), the League (Lega) and Forza Italia at Piazza del Popolo in Rome, ahead of the September 25 general election.

(From L) Leader of Italian far-right Lega (League) party Matteo Salvini, Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Italian far-right party Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni, and Italian centre-right lawmaker Maurizio Lupi on stage on September 22, 2022 during a joint rally of Italy’s coalition of far-right and right-wing parties. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

“We will judge them on their programme, who will be the finance minister. The names being mentioned are people that we in Brussels are familiar with,” the official added.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding the Brothers of Italy

However, when it comes to Russia, many fear that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will find in Italy a quick ally in his quest to water down measures against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A longtime friend of the Kremlin, Salvini has promised that he will not try to undo the EU sanctions. But many believe that his government will make the process more arduous in the coming months.

Whether the war or soaring inflation, “what we are facing in the coming months is going to be very difficult and very much test European unity”, said Fabian Zuleeg, chief executive at the European Policy Centre.

The likely election result in Italy is “not going to help in making some of these hard decisions”, he added.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: What happens on election day and when do we get the results?

France’s European affairs minister, Laurence Boone, pointed to the headache of the far-right’s unpredictability.

“One day they are for the euro, one day they are not for the euro. One day they support Russia, one day they change their minds,” she told French radio.

“We have European institutions that work. We will work together. But it is true that it is worrying,” she added

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