The high court has rejected an attempt to force the government to grant millions of UK citizens living abroad a vote in this June’ s EU referendum. The legal challenge brought by two disenfranchised expats on behalf of those living overseas for more than 15 years was dismissed by Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mr Justice Blake. The government, the judges said, was entitled to adopt a cut-off period “at which extended residence abroad might indicate a weakening of ties with the United Kingdom”. The ruling also noted that there would be “significant practical difficulties about adopting, especially for this referendum, a new electoral register which includes non-resident British citizens whose last residence in the UK was more than 15 years ago”. The judges added: “Electoral registration officers currently retain records of previous electoral registers for a period of 15 years. They have no straightforward means of checking the previous residence status of British citizens who have been resident overseas for longer than 15 years.
“In our view, parliament could legitimately take the view that electors who satisfy the test of closeness of connection set by the 15 rule form an appropriate group to vote on the question whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union.”
The case was brought by 94-year-old Harry Shindler, a second world war veteran who lives in Italy, and the lawyer Jacquelyn MacLennan who lives in Belgium.
In court, lawyers for the two had argued that under the EU Referendum Act 2015 they were being unlawfully denied the right to vote in the referendum. But Lloyd Jones, sitting with Blake, ruled section two did not restrict their rights and rejected their application for judicial review.