A decision by judges in the Supreme Court has finally put an end to the legal challenge of two British citizens claiming to have been unfairly excluded from voting in the EU referendum. They were campaigning against the law which disenfranchises people who have lived outside the UK for 15 years or more. Lawyers for Harry Shindler MBE, a war veteran living in Italy, and Jaquelyn MacLennan, a lawyer resident in Belgium, pursued their claim that the EU Referendum Act (Section 2) is incompatible with EU law. They argued that it “restricts their directly effective EU law rights of freedom of movement” and acts as a penalty for exercising this right. Following hearings in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, the UK’s final court of appeal, endorsed the lower courts’ rejection of the claim. It ruled that, even if EU law did apply (and there was disagreement between the courts over this point), there had not been any “interference” with the claimants’ right of free movement – which was the basis of the case.
What’s unclear is how many people will be affected by the ruling. Estimated numbers of British citizens resident in the EU range from 1.2m to 2m, but there is no easy way of knowing how many of these have been there for more than 15 years.
While the legal arguments discussed in the case were highly complex, the political argument was clear and compelling: if the UK votes to leave the EU, British citizens resident elsewhere in the EU will lose their status as European citizens – and all the associated rights relating to residency, working rights, access to healthcare and welfare, and transfers of pension schemes. Not surprising then that they should want to participate in the decision to Leave or Remain. We can assume that the vast majority would probably choose the latter.