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

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Photo: TJ Morris
11:19 CEST+02:00
The Conservative party in the UK has made a bid to woo expat voters by pledging to end the controversial “15-year rule” that prevents millions of Brits abroad from being able to vote.

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 completely 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 heard their call.

As part of its election manifesto, David Cameron’s Tory party has 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.”

It is believed there are around 5.5 million British expats living abroad including 250,000 living in France, but only a tiny portion of them are registered to vote back home.

Harry Shindler, a British war veteran who has been living in Italy for 30 years, has long campaigned for his UK voter rights.

He took the campaign to Brussels, a move which prompted the European Commission in January to call on the UK to restore one of its “fundamental political rights”.

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"Only those who lose the right to vote realize how important it is,” he told The Local earlier this year.

“While there is a low percentage of people using their vote, this is being used against us, to say that we’re not interested in voting.”

CLICK HERE to read more about Shindler's campaign

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