A year ago I wrote about one man’s crusade to force the UK government to allow British expats to vote in parliamentary elections after a 15 year absence from the country. Recently James Preston, a British fund manager living in Madrid, took the matter to the High Court with the assistance of a legal firm working on a pro bono basis but his case was summarily dismissed. He intends to appeal.
In effect this ruling means that current legislation continues to penalise Britons choosing to live abroad, and could disenfranchise 5.5 million British expats from voting in UK parliamentary elections in the future. Other countries in the EU such as France and Germany and those such as the USA do not treat their citizens with such derogation.
Interestingly the UK government lumps British expats with criminals, the mentally incompetent and children-all of whom are not allowed to participate in UK elections and yet civil servants overseas, members of the British Council and Armed Forces are all given the right to vote. If diaspora Britons –who represent 10 per cent of the population of the UK-are held in such contempt by the British government why does it continue to take their taxes? When did the rule of “no taxation without representation” fall off its perch?
The British government’s rather weak argument is that those living overseas have lost touch with matters affecting those in the UK. Obviously improved air travel, satellite television, the internet and the rise of social media have somehow evaded our esteemed parliament’s collective consciousness. Instead the government suggests that British expats become citizens of their host country in order to receive a vote in its national elections.
Of course David Cameron is missing a trick. If he were to give back the vote to British expats he could find himself with a whole bunch of new friends ready and willing to give him the vote in the future. He’d find resistance from Nick Clegg who made it clear to James Preston, through one of his representatives, that he opposed the idea but then again Clegg is given to prevarication so he could well change his mind by lunchtime tomorrow.
If the coalition government were to cooperate, British expats themselves would have to become more proactive. Only about 13,000 Britons living overseas are still on the electoral register in Britain and few take an interest in national elections but surely part of that apathy is as a result of being given the cold shoulder by successive British governments?