Britons who have lived abroad for more than 15 years will not be allowed to vote in the EU referendum, the supreme court has ruled. The highest court in the country upheld earlier rulings of the high court and court of appeal against Harry Shindler and Jacquelyn MacLennan, who were challenging the law. The ruling confirms the decision that the UK’s voting regulations do not unlawfully interfere with the right of freedom of movement within the European Union and that the government is entitled to set an arbitrary time limit on residence. Delivering the ruling, Lady Hale, deputy president of the supreme court, said: “The question is not whether this particular voting exclusion is justifiable as a proportionate means of pursuing a legitimate aim. The question is whether EU law applies.”
Even if EU law did apply, she added, there was no interference with the rights of free movement. Therefore, she said, the case was dismissed. She said: “We have considerable sympathy with the applicants and the situation in which they find themselves. We understand it’s something which concerns them deeply, but we cannot discern a legal basis for challenging this statute.”
The decision will prevent up to 2 million UK citizens living around the world from participating in the referendum on 23 June.
MacLennan said she would not appeal against the ruling to any European courts. “This is deeply disappointing,” she said. “We tried our best. This is manifestly unjust, but we gave always said we did not want to pull the referendum. “I hope the government will, at least, keep its promise and change the voting laws for the next general election.”