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EUROPEAN UNION

British expats: have your say in this historic decision

Many Brits abroad have the right to vote on Britain's future in the EU. They should use it, David Lidington, British Europe Minister, writes for The Local.

British expats: have your say in this historic decision
British Europe Minister, David Lidington, says Brits should register to vote. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

One of the most historic decisions the UK will make for a generation is in just a few weeks. On Thursday 23 June the British people will vote in a referendum to decide whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union. 

I am convinced that we will be stronger, safer and better off remaining in a reformed EU, rather than out on our own.

But this is a decision for you, the British people, not me or any other politician. The outcome of this referendum will affect not only your life, but the lives of your children and grand-children. So whatever you think, make sure you have your say. 

We know that British citizens living overseas are more interested in this poll than any before. Already more of you have registered to vote than in total for last year’s General Election. But this is still just a fraction of the millions of British people who live overseas and are eligible to vote. That’s why we are supporting the Electoral Commission to help our eligible citizens all over the world to register to vote. 

So what is stopping you? Maybe you think you are not eligible? You are, as long as you have been registered to vote in the UK within the last 15 years. Or maybe you think the process will be too complicated? It’s not – it is easier than ever, and takes just five minutes online. You need your passport and National Insurance number, then go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote (or search for ‘UK register to vote’).

SURVEY OF THE LOCAL'S READERS: Could Brits in Europe put the brakes on Brexit?

Perhaps you are worried about your voting papers not reaching you in time? We have been working with the Electoral Commission to get ballot packs sent out much earlier than for previous polls, with enough return postage. So as long as you register by 16 May, your vote should make it back to the UK in time to be counted. If you live in a country where the postal system is particularly slow or unreliable, then you can appoint a proxy, where someone you trust votes in the UK on your behalf. 

Or perhaps you think this referendum doesn’t matter? This decision will affect your loved ones living back in the UK. And this decision affects you: in this modern world you may live or work overseas for a few years, then go back to Britain. Some of you have spent a lifetime working in and contributing to the UK. Most still have deep ties; whether family, property, drawing a pension, or the prospect of returning. Regardless of your story, it is clear that we all have something at stake.

Finally, don’t assume that because you voted in the General Election last year that you are still registered to vote – you have to renew your registration every year. 

Whatever you think, and whatever method you choose, don’t miss the opportunity to have your say in this historic decision, which will affect all of us and our families for decades to come.  

 Rt Hon David Lidington MP is the British Government’s Minister of State for Europe.

SEE ALSO: Ben McPartland: Expats didn't 'abandon' UK so ALL Brits should get EU vote

 

 

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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