Elections Bill

Written evidence submitted by British in Europe (EB09)

Evidence to the House of Commons Elections Bill Committee on the Elections Bill 2021

1. British in Europe (" BiE ") is the coalition of groups representing UK citizens living and working in EU countries. We attach at Annex 1 a brief account giving more details about us.

Executive summary

2. BiE has already given written evidence on the Bill to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (please see link) : https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/38427/pdf/ .

3. We would now like to propose specific amendments to the part of the Bill concerning o verseas e lectors designed to provide for an application for postal/proxy voting as part of the application for registration, as well as the electronic of ballot papers . We would like to thank the Committee in advance for their consideration.

Background to our proposal

4. We have already underlined in our evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee , along with other witnesses, that it is not sufficient simply to restore the right to vote to overseas citizens but also to ensure that this right can be exercised effectively. The Bill is silent on the mechanics of voting. This is, in part, understandable . A rrangements are in place for UK citizens ex UK , who have been included on an electoral roll in the last 15 years, to cast their vote. However, the Bill presents an opportunity to overcome a key barrier to overseas voting, namely the time constraints from when an election is called for delivery of ballot papers and their return to local authorities. Delivery of international post items is neither swift nor, necessarily, reliable.

5. We are convinced that the potential for delay is a key factor in the take up of the right to vote by the group of overseas citizens entitled to vote under the current 15 year rule. This take up was around 20% or 285,000 at the 2017 General Election. The House of Commons Library ( House of Commons Library Research Briefing – Overseas Voters 12 May 2021) calculates that this equates to the total group amounting to around 1.4 million people entitled to vote.

6. A parliamentary question put down by Cat Smith MP, and a member of this C ommittee, elicited a government estimate that repeal would extend the franchise to a further 3 million British overseas citizens. On a 20% take up of the right to vote, this would mean that still less than 900,000 electors would be exercising that right. We believe that it is the interest of democracy that stringent efforts are made to increase this number irrespective of the experience of other countries , where take up by overseas citizens in some cases may be lower than 20% .

7. Our proposal is simple - an amendment designed to provide for an application for postal/proxy voting as part of the application for registration . Virtually all ‘overseas electors’ will require a postal or proxy vote . The amendment is also designed to remove the initial delay in ballot papers reaching the overseas elector , through electronic despatch. A request for a postal/proxy ballot, electronically despatched or not, would then be binding until such time as the overseas elector explicitly requests a change or at re-registration. Once an election is called, the elector’s preferences are known, the electronic ballot can be sent expeditiously , thus not only making it easier for overseas voters to exercise their right to vote but, importantly, also resulting in a saving in administrative time and effort , compared to current procedures .

8. We recognise that it is premature to introduce a means of electronic voting to remove the time delay in returning ballots. Nevertheless, we feel that electronic despatch could act as a useful test case for both streamlining postal voting in the UK (something BiE supports) and, in due course, the introduction of electronic voting. We see no issues from a privacy or security angle through electronic despatch of ballot papers to overseas voters. Indeed, it would be a more reliable method of ensuring voters actually receive ballot papers than that currently applied.


9. We ask the Committee to endorse this proposal and to amend the Bill accordingly. We suggest that this could be achieved by :

a. Including a new clause 1 (1) (c) in Part 2 Section 10(1)

" A person who is entitled to vote as an elector at a parliamentary election in a constituency is also entitled to make an application for a postal or proxy vote as an absent voter at the same time as the application to be registered. The registrant should also be presented with the opportunity to select electronic issuance of the ballot paper at that time "

b. Substitute a new clause ( 5 ) to Part 2 section 10 (1) 1E :

"The registrant shall reaffirm or change their voting preference (in accord with Part 2 1 (1) (c) ) at the time of renewal registration including their wish to receive ballot papers electronically".

The currently proposed Part 2 section 10(1) 1E(5) would then become 1E(6)

c. Amending Schedule 2

Appropriate follow-up changes to Schedule 2 of the bill may then be necessary fully to implement the suggested amendments to Part 2 section 10(1).

British in Europe


Who we are:

British in Europe is a coalition of grassroots citizens’ organisations and the largest grouping of UK citizens in the EU. It was founded in early 2017 to give UK citizens living, working and studying across the EU a voice in the Brexit negotiations.

We are the organisation of reference on citizens' rights for UK nationals in the EU. Since 2017 we have been recognised by the British government, the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament as trusted interlocutors, meeting secretaries of state, ministers in member states and key EU and British officials. Our seven-person Steering Team has campaigned jointly with the3million, which represents EU27 citizens in the UK. Together, we have pressed to keep our existing rights and to prevent Brexit from destroying the lives and families we have created whilst exercising those rights.

For our advocacy, we have produced dossiers highlighting the human and legal cost of Brexit for the 1.2 million UK citizens in the EU. We have given evidence at the European Parliament, both Houses of the UK Parliament (written and oral evidence) and national and regional parliaments around the EU. With the3million, we have explained our plight to senior politicians such as Michel Barnier, Stephen Barclay, Guy Verhofstadt, Katarina Barley and Nathalie Loiseau. We have provided expert analysis across the media and built up a strong social media presence to show how losing our rights will affect our everyday lives.

What we have achieved so far:

The Withdrawal Agreement:

Working with the3million, British in Europe ensured that citizens’ rights was the top priority in negotiations. We had a major impact on the citizens' rights chapter, feeding into each round of negotiations. We persuaded both sides to extend the right of absence for permanent residents from two to five years. We widened the initial focus of negotiators to ensure that issues affecting UK nationals of working age and particularly young people were prioritised.

The advocacy of BiE country groups has also affected EU member states’ decisions to choose between declaratory and constitutive systems to secure our rights.

UK Government Issues:

We obtained a commitment that UK nationals in the EU27 wishing to study in Britain will be entitled to pay home university fees instead of expensive international fees for seven years from the end of the transition period. We also obtained a grace period until 2022 for British citizens returning to the UK with non-British family members without having to meet the requirements of normally applicable UK immigration law. However, we are still lobbying the government on the detail of the grace periods, and subsequent arrangements, in the light of a number of unfortunate administrative rulings.


BiE has provided clear and accurate information on citizens' rights for the UK nationals we represent. To governments and the media, we have supplied expert analysis with a strong legal basis on complex issues such as working rights, professional qualifications, pensions, healthcare and mobile  citizens.

October 2021


Prepared 19th October 2021