Before 1985, British citizens with the right of abode in the UK, but living outside of the country, were not permitted to register to vote.
The Representation of the People Act 1985, permitted British citizens who had been out of the UK less than five years, to register and vote in their last constituency. Another Representation of the People Act, also from Thatcher’s government, in 1989, increased the time limit. If you had been out of the UK less than twenty years. you could still register and vote in your last constituency.
The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, passed by Tony Blair’s government, in 2000, reduced the time limit to fifteen years.
All the acts mentioned above can be found at legislation.gov.uk
In January 2014, the European Union’s Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, said that Britain was “punishing” its citizens for leaving, by removing their right to vote.
In September 2014, the Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps, told the Conservative conference: ” Being a British citizen is for life. It gives you the lifelong right to be protected by our military and Foreign Office and to travel on a British passport. We believe, that it should also give you the lifelong right to vote “.
The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2015 General Election pledged to give British citizens abroad, the right to vote in elections, without time limit.
The European Referendum Act 2015 can also be found at legislation.gov.uk It is widely argued that the referendum was ‘gerrymandered’ ie manipulated.
Around one million Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK, were permitted to vote, but the three million EU citizens in the UK, were not – unless citizens of Cyprus and Malta (Commonwealth countries) or the Republic of Ireland.
Although 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish Independence referendum, no British 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote in the European Union referendum.
Bearing in mind that the Conservative Party had pledged to allow British citizens abroad to vote, Parliament could have allowed Brits living in the EU to vote. It allowed citizens of British Overseas Territory, Gibraltar, to vote, although they don’t return MPs to Westminster. None of the other British Overseas Territories were allowed to vote.
Parliament allowed members of the House of Lords to vote, though they aren’t allowed to vote in General Elections.
British citizens abroad, headed by Harry Shindler MBE, a war veteran, living in Italy and Jacqueline MacLennan, a lawyer living in Belgium, took the Government through High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, finally losing their case in May 2016.
One of the reasons given by the courts, was that the European Union Referendum was to be a consultative (advisory) non-binding referendum, unlike the Scottish referendum, which was binding.
Many hundreds of people who were eligible to vote in the EU referendum didn’t get their postal vote in time, because the councils used British postage rates not overseas ones. One person opened the envelope, only to find it completely empty. Another person had to drive over 100km, to pick up a postal vote sent to the wrong address. Some British military personnel serving overseas temporarily, didn’t receive a postal vote. There were also eligible British voters who didn’t receive their postal vote at all. British people living outside the EU for less than 15 years, were eligible to vote in the EU referendum and this was barely mentioned, so many didn’t.
Remain lost by 1.3m votes, but Scotland and Northern Ireland majority-voted to Remain, as did Gibraltar. No threshold had been set by the Act, because Parliament voted for it on the basis of an advisory non-binding referendum, for which the House of Commons has had a procedure, since 2010.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to trigger Article 50, giving Notification of Withdrawal from the European Union, by Henry VIII era Royal Prerogative, was foiled by Gina Miller and other cases, including The People’s Challenge. Basically, only Parliament can remove rights which it has given.
After a ludicrously short debate, compared with the 20 days it took to ratify the Treaty of Maastricht, Article 50 was triggered.
Despite a promise in October 2016 that British citizens abroad would get a vote without time limit, before the next General Election, May reneged on this and called a snap election for 08 June 2017.
Action for Expat Votes is a crowdfund by Action for Europe, a group of academics and professionals, in the UK and France. British citizens living in the EU got to the Supreme Court and were turned down, on a British citizen basis. The crowdfund seeks to address the disenfranchisement from a purely European angle.
British citizens living in the EU, are exercising their rights as EU citizens, to have Freedom of Movement.
EUDO Citizenship, part of the European Union Democracy Observatory, produced a working paper in 2012, which asked whether EU citizens should have the right to vote in national elections, from within the EU.
In January 2014, the European Commission produced recommendations for the problem of disenfranchisement of EU citizens from national elections, because they were exercising their FoM rights. This followed on from the EU Citizenship Report 2013 Another EU Citizenship Report was commissioned in 2016 and can be downloaded HERE
Equal treatment of all EU citizens is a fundamental part of both the Treaties and the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights.
There is a mechanism already, by which EU citizens can make a complaint against a member state HERE but this is designed for use on an individual basis, not for millions.
Article 50 TEU can be found explained in this 2016 European Parliament briefing and it clearly states that ” any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”. As President of the European Council, Donald Tusk accepted the Notice of Withdrawal from the European Union letter, this must surely be acceptance by the European Union, that the British government acted constitutionally, regardless of the number of groups within the UK, which in practice, have been disenfranchised.
The Action for Expat Votes case, led by lawyer Julien Fouchet of Bordeaux, will be put in front of a General Court, before 22 July 2017.
Basically, the case asks European courts for clarification, as no rules exist on national election franchisement within the European Union. Therefore it’s likely, that the courts would have to make a decision based on Treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which the UK is a signatory of.
During the Gina Miller and The People’s Challenge cases, the Supreme Court could have asked the European Courts of Justice, to rule whether Article 50 TEU is irrevocable or not, but chose to avoid this. A crowdfund organised by Jo Maugham QC, will be asking this question of the European Courts of Justice via Irish courts. There are updates on Crowdjustice
If the European Courts of Justice ruled that discriminating against EU citizens living in the EU in a referendum which would remove their rights is unlawful, that would have big implications for the validity of the referendum.
If the referendum had included UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK plus Gibraltarians, that would have been a much more democratic referendum, even if 16 and 17 year olds had still been excluded.
The likely result would have been Remain, a result the Conservative government professed to want. Refusal to debate properly afterwards and refusal to show respect for Parliament, would seem to show otherwise.
Remainers must continue to throw spanners in the works. Not because we’re undemocratic, but because the Government has put party before country , gerrymandered a referendum, attempted to act illegally, disrespected Parliament and refused to give all British citizens affected by any decision, a vote.