Written evidence submitted by the British
Community Committee of France |
expatriates (expats) are currently deprived of the right to register
to vote in UK national elections after 15 years' residence abroad
expats continue to have close ties to the UK even after a long
period of residence abroad, and a strong personal interest in
the future of their country and the conduct of the Government
rights in national elections are based on nationality, not residence,
so expats cannot instead vote in the countries where they live
for a time period before disenfranchisement of an arbitrary number
of years serves no legitimate objective
than seeking to identify the "right" period of residence
abroad, on the contrary there should be no time limit at all
repealing the present legislation disenfranchising British expats
after 15 years' residence abroad should be inserted into the Individual
Voter Registration Bill.
1. I write as Chairman of the British Community
Committee of France, a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization
which represents British residents in France, strives to provide
greater visibility and a united face for the British Community
in France as a whole, and investigates issues and problems in
everyday life that may be encountered from time to time by British
residents in France.
2. The terms "British" and "Britishness"
in this paper refer to the nationality conferred on UK citizens
with the right of abode in the UK under British nationality law
currently in force. The terms also refer to the usually loyal
and life-long identification of most British citizens, whether
UK residents or expats, with their own country. Use of the terms
"British" and "Britishness" is not intended
in any way to exclude Northern Ireland.
3. France is host to Britain's eighth-largest
British expatriate community, and the second-largest in a non-English-speaking
country after Spain.
4. In this matter I speak also for British expats
all over the world, pursuant to my contributions on this subject
as part of the British expats' delegation to the French-organized
"Europe on the Move" meeting of representatives of expat
communities at the French Foreign Ministry on 30 September 2008
and the Italian-organized follow-up meeting of representatives
of expat communities in the Italian Senate in Rome on 30 April
5. According to research by the IPPR, some 5.6
million British subjects live abroad. 55% of all British emigrants
in 2008 left the country for professional reasons, often being
sent abroad by their British employers, or working for an international
organization such as the UN or OECD. Approximately a quarter are
students, and around 20% are pensioners. British pensioners living
abroad represent nearly 10 per cent of all British pensioners.
6. Under legislation enacted in 2002 only those
may register to vote in UK national elections who have resided
abroad for less than 15 years ("the 15-year rule").
This is widely resented by those British expats who are affected
by it, and whose right to vote in national elections is suddenly
and arbitrarily terminated after 15 years abroad, often spent
working to further the interests of the UK in commercial companies
or international organizations.
7. British citizens disenfranchised in this manner
because of the duration of their residence abroad are in effect
deprived of the right to vote at legislative elections in general,
since national voting rights are based on nationality, not residence,
and the countries where they live do not, and probably never will,
allow them to vote in their own national elections.
8. While they tend not to allow non-national
residents to vote, most advanced democracies and many emerging
countries not only permit, but actually encourage and facilitate
voting by their own citizens living abroad. These include the
USA, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, etc.
9. The time limit before disenfranchisement has
varied since 1985 between five, 20 and 15 years. Each time the
time limit was changed, Parliament clearly experienced difficulty
in identifying what might be considered the "right"
period of residence abroad before disenfranchising its own citizens.
As a result, a compromise number of years was adopted in each
case. It is not clear that any of these time periods corresponded
to a particular legislative objective.
10. Cases pending before the Administrative Court
and the European Court of Human Rights, brought against the UK
and impugning current UK electoral practice where expats are concerned,
if judged in favour of the applicants, would no doubt require
HM Government to ensure that any new legislation setting a time
limitation should not be arbitrary, but be proportionate to the
objective to be attained by the legislation. A further arbitrary
compromise number of years is therefore not at all desirable.
11. The present submission argues that rather
than seeking to identify the "right" period of residence
abroad, on the contrary there should be no time limit at all,
and that overseas voters who are UK citizens, provided they fulfil
all other required conditions, should continue to be able to register
to vote in UK national elections without there being any time
period after which disenfranchisement would become automatic.
12. Draft legislation on individual voter registration
has been submitted to you by the Minister for Constitutional Reform,
and it is our contention that such draft legislation could and
should include a provision repealing those parts of the Representation
of the People Act currently in force which set a time limit on
overseas voter registration.
13. It is not for us to draft legislation, but
it appears from the 2002 legislation that a simple text of less
than 100 words could be a simple basis for repealing the 15-year
14. If enacted, such a provision would constitute
recognition by HM Government that British expats enjoy equal British
citizenship and equal rights with their fellow British citizens
resident in the UK. Such expats would at last all be able to participate
fully in the democratic election of members of the legislature,
rather than just some of them.
15. They would be motivated to do so not only
on grounds of Britishness, but also of their continuing strong
links with the home country, and their personal interests in areas
such as old age pensions, taxation, their children's and grandchildren's
education, health care, etc etc.
16. In many cases British expats continue to
pay income tax in the UK eg income tax deducted at source from
public service pension payments or tax paid in respect of real
estate and/or investments held in the UK. These are people with
a vested interest in continuing to have a say in the legislative
affairs of the Kingdom.
17. Taxation is not however a compelling argument,
since most countries where British expats live have concluded
a Double Taxation Convention with the UK, in effect deeming that
by paying tax in the host country, they have fulfilled their fiscal
obligations to their home country.
18. British expats today are able to keep
themselves fully informed about issues affecting the UK through
satellite TV and radio, newspapers on the internet, etc. On the
whole they care deeply about their Britishness and about what
goes on in their home country. Expats show a keen interest in
maintaining good relations with British embassies and consulates
abroad. Britishness and links with Britain are expressed locally
through membership of British associations and institutions abroad
(see for example www.britishinfrance.com).
They represent informally British values abroad and act as unofficial
ambassadors of Britishness to the outside world.
19. In enacting the proposed repeal of any time
limit on expats' voting rights, it would be beyond question that
HM Government would be bringing the UK into line with article
20 TFEU (freedom to move to and reside in other EU member states),
the numerous and repeated recommendations of the Council of Europe
concerning expat voting rights (notably the Parliamentary Assembly's
Resolution 1459(2005)), and the provisions on electoral rights
of the European Convention on Human Rights
20. The Committee will want to explore what risks
might arise as a result of enacting the proposed submission, and
how such risks might be mitigated.
21. In 1989 the time limit on expats' voting
rights changed to 20 years, the longest period before disenfranchisement
that has existed in UK law. The new time limit did not apparently
cause any undesirable consequences compared with the previous
time limit of only five years.
22. Theoretically there could be a small risk
of electoral fraud if any unqualified persons were registered.
However, a registration process could no doubt be devised based
on the electors' British passport number, a unique, secure number
issued by the Identity and Passport Service of the Home Office,
which also holds information about the full identity and address
of the passport holder at the time of issuance of the passport.
All British expat citizens whose status is legal must hold a current
British passport. In the absence of a national identity document
for UK resident nationals, passport data for British expats actually
provide a stronger means of proof of identity than is available
for resident nationals.
23. It may be felt by some that certain long-term
expats have, over time, lost their connections with the UK, and
that enfranchising them might make the voter base in the relevant
constituency unrepresentative (albeit very slightly). However,
if such persons exist, it is highly unlikely they would be sufficiently
motivated to apply to register to vote. Therefore this is hardly
a risk that needs to be considered.
24. In conclusion, abolition of any time limit
on the residence of expat voters abroad would:
the UK into line with the practice of other advanced democracies
and with EU treaty obligations and Council of Europe recommendations,
the ties of Britishness between the UK and those who are its unofficial
full participation in the democratic process of millions of British
expat citizens who are motivated so to do.
To abolish the time limit, the legislation need not
be complicated, and secure registration procedures based on passport
data could be devised to avoid fraud.
51 (based on Political Parties, Elections and Referendums
Act 2000, section 141):
Abolition of qualifying period for overseas
This section has no associated Explanatory
Each of the following provisions of
the Representation of the People Act 1985 (as amended by the Representation
of the People Act 2000), namely-
(a) section 1(3) (c) and section 1 (4)
(a) (conditions to be satisfied by British citizen in order to
qualify as overseas elector in relation to parliamentary election),
(b) section 3 (3) (c) and 3 (4) (a)
(conditions to be satisfied by peer in order to qualify as overseas
elector in relation to European Parliamentary election),
shall be repealed.