Following a recent change, UK citizens living outside of the UK can now register to vote in UK elections and, perhaps more importantly, in UK referendums.
Up until this time all UK citizens (apart from armed forces and some other government employees) lost the right to vote in the UK if they were one of the estimated three to four million Britons living abroad for more than 15 years. They now will regain their right to vote in parliamentary elections in the UK from Tuesday January 16, ending 20 years of broken promises by successive UK governments.
This change of rules means perhaps more than three million more could be enfranchised in time for the next general election and any future referendums. This is the result of lobbying by a number of groups. For those living in the EU who recently had their right to vote, at least locally, in their adopted country removed after a UK referendum on leaving the EU, this may be especially important as they are now often totally disenfranchised. Something which in itself may have had a different result had expats had the option to vote.
Some potential voters may not be interested in having their say in parliamentary elections but may well believe that other matters, such as the loss of winter fuel allowance and the frozen state pension for those not living in countries in which bilateral agreements apply, can register at the last constituency in which they were registered or even where they have lived if they were not registered before. Important to those who moved abroad as young adults who had never voted in UK elections.
This move was not universally supported. Paul Scriven, a Liberal Democrat life peer, asked how it could be right that someone who had not lived in the UK for 50 years could have a say in policies that did not directly affect them.
Yet Britons abroad are affected by many of the same issues as those living in the UK won the day, including referendums, education policy for overseas children sent to school or university in the UK and the immigration policy for non-British spouses, which also often means the spouse does not get the state pension after death of the UK pensioner, sometimes even if the spouse themselves hold a UK passport/citizenship.
Indeed, this comes just after the UK government said rules on bringing foreign spouses to the UK were changing. This, it is argued, effectively for some, strips one remaining citizenship right to return to live in the UK. In December the Home Office said it would lift the minimum income requirement for British citizens bringing their spouses to the UK from £18,600 to £38,700. This may stop many families moving to Britain where, for example, a UK citizen marries a local resident when living overseas.
Hopefully considering the above thoughts if the word is spread wide even those thinking it not worth the effort to register for a vote will realise that it perhaps is a good idea after all. To register is simple online just google “register to vote UK” and there is a user-friendly link.
From the UK government website
Who can register
You must be aged 16 or over (or 14 or over in Scotland and Wales).
You must also be one of the following:
· a British citizen (wherever living)
· an Irish or EU citizen living in the UK
· a Commonwealth citizen who has permission to enter or stay in the UK, or who does not need permission
· a citizen of another country living in Scotland or Wales who has permission to enter or stay in the UK, or who does not need permission
You will need your passport details and if you have it a UK NI number (but you can still register if you do not have one).
Ross Pays is an associate of Elgin Associates