Campaigners have responded with concern to a statement which reiterated a government pledge to restore voting rights for all British expats – without indicating whether this will happen in time for the EU referendum. One pensioner in France speculated that “Eurosceptics are holding this up in the Cabinet Office” amid fears that Britons who live in Europe would be most likely to vote against a Brexit. In a statement issued to Telegraph Expat, John Penrose, Minister for Constitutional Reform, said: “The 15-year rule has got to go. It’s why we said in our manifesto that we would scrap this outdated law and allow Britons a vote for life wherever they are.” But he did not say when that will happen. He went on to urge those who currently have the right to vote to join the electoral register as soon as possible.
The so-called ’15-year rule’ prevents around a million of the five million Britons overseas from voting in UK parliamentary elections if they have lived out of the country for that amount of time.
A Votes for Life Bill, which will scrap the rule, was announced in the Queen’s Speech last May, but has yet to be tabled in Parliament.
Meanwhile the Referendum Act has already cleared Parliament and been made law as of December 17. It allows those who, on the date of the referendum would be entitled to vote in a parliamentary election in the UK, the right to participate in the in/out vote on the EU. At present, this only includes British expats who have been away less than 15 years.