A Bill to restore voting rights to all British expatriates before next year’s general election was given permission by MPs to move to the next stage of the process today. Although a date was set for the second reading of the Bill, on March 6, it is thought unlikely that it will be successfully passed into law due to the slim window of time before Parliament is dissolved ahead of the general election in May. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a Conservative MP, raised the matter in the Commons today, urging MPs from all parties to support his efforts to get the current ’15-year rule’ abolished as soon as possible. The rule blocks Britons overseas from voting in UK elections if they have been out of the country for longer than 15 years. In his speech, made under the Ten Minute Rule – a procedure that allows MPs to seek the leave of the house to introduce a Bill – Mr Clifton-Brown said the ban on voting affects an estimated one million of the 5.5 million Britons living overseas.
“I believe this to be incredibly unfair and unjustified when the people that have lived abroad for more than 15 years are people that have decided to move to a different country having paid into this country’s system for their whole working life and who still have strong connections to the UK. Why should they, after all of that, be disfranchised from their country of origin?” he asked.
The MP, who represents the Cotswolds constituency, said that the “disappointingly” low number of British overseas citizens who are currently registered to vote – around 32,000 – is not a reason to deny expats their rights.