Westminster Column - Overseas Electors

2nd March 2018

Last Friday my Parliamentary neighbour Glyn Davies, MP for Montgomeryshire, introduced to the House of Commons his Overseas Electors Bill. I was pleased to be in the Chamber to back the Bill, which has cross party support.

This centenary month of Votes for Women provided the perfect backdrop to our efforts to enfranchise those British citizens who have lost their previous right to vote, having lived overseas for more than 15 years. The Bill debated on Friday would scrap this limit entirely and replace it with a simple criterion - if you are a British citizen, you have the right to vote in the UK.

Having twice lived as an expat myself - first in the 1980s for two years in USA, then in the 1990s for three and a half years in Hong Kong - I am well aware that many British expats maintain links with the UK through family, property, schooling, or pensions; many pay taxes on income derived from within the UK, through employment, investment, property or pensions; and many will return to the UK.

Decisions taken in the House of Commons, directly affect many British expats overseas - but if they have been overseas for 15 years, they have no right to contribute to the democracy that decides legislation. This seems wrong, not least since most comparable democracies enfranchise their citizens overseas.

We have a long tradition of British citizens, both engaged in public service and the private sector, working for years in other countries. Many pensioners retire abroad for their more active retirement years, often returning to the UK to be nearer their families. The world has never been more global, nor travel more accessible. It is time we recognise this reality.

The key issue, for me, is that removing the current 15 year limit will enfranchise British citizens, who have lost their previous right to vote in their own country. Anyone who doubts the merits of this issue should look to 96 year old World War II veteran Harry Shindler, who has spent years fighting this cause from Italy (incidentally now as the oldest living Labour Party member).

I had hoped to speak in the debate but there was an effort to talk out the Bill, so we ran out of time. Fortunately those of us supporting the Bill managed to secure its passage to the next stage in Committee. I look forward to it progressing to change the law to right this wrong.


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