In the rough-and-tumble of democracy, a general election is that magic moment when you kick out a politician who has reneged on their promises, or reward one who has fulfilled them. The genius, or cynicism, of Theresa May’s early election is that, after so few months of government, she has no real record to study. But here, for those wondering about her ability to flout any of her own government’s solemn pledges, is a whopper that has left millions of UK citizens in the lurch. In October her minister for the constitution, Chris Skidmore, made a clear and unequivocal pledgeto bring UK citizens living abroad back into the democratic fold, by allowing them to vote, before the next election. This was especially important to those whose lives are most traumatically affected by Brexit because they live elsewhere in the EU.
“If you were born in the UK, or have been a citizen living in the UK, then by the next general election, you will have an inalienable right to decide your country’s future,” he said.
He meant that those of us who have lived outside the United Kingdom for more than 15 years – including many of the 1.2 million UK citizens who work and live elsewhere in the European Union – could vote again.
The Cabinet Office was so pleased with itself that it put out a press release with the extraordinary headline: “Government delivers on pledge to give back British expats the right to vote.” This was absurd overhype, since a policy statement is a pledge, not the delivery of one. Six months later it reads like a lie.