Three million British citizens living overseas – including the estimated nearly 400,000 who live in Spain will given the right to vote in UK local and general elections under a new law being prepared by the government of Boris Johnson.
Under a law introduced by Tony Blair´s government in the 1990s, millions of British nationals were disenfranchised if they spent more than 15 years living outside the UK.
The restoration of the vote has long been campaigned for and came to head during the Brexit referendum when less than 10% of Britons living in the European Union were able to vote.
The proposal now receives government backing under the “Votes for Life” commitment of the Elections Bill.
The UK government is introducing the legislation to remove the current 15-year rule, and which is expected to be passed later this year and be operational by next – well in advance of the next General Election, expected in 2024.
Overseas electoral voters will be able to apply for a postal vote or proxy vote at the same time as renewing their voter registration, to ensure they have appropriate voting arrangements in place ahead of an election, the system allowing for the “secure and accessible registration of overseas voters”.
Speaking in Madrid, the British Ambassador to Spain, Hugh Elliot, said: ” In an increasingly connected world, most British citizens living in Spain retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family there, worked there for many years, and some have even fought for our country.
“They deserve to have their voices heard in Parliament, no matter where they live, and I am delighted that UK Nationals living in Spain will now be able to participate in our democracy.”
UK Nationals in Spain can vote in local municipal elections if they are officially resident and on the Spanish electoral register.
The drive for the restoration of the vote came principally from two British nationals who had moved to Europe and were unable to excersise their vote in either their home or adopted country.
Harry Shindler, a British citizen who has lived in Italy since 1982, and Jacquelyn MacLennan, who has lived in Brussels since 1987, took a case to the European High Court challenging the legality of the Blair law as it deprived them of their franchise.
Mr Shindler, 99, a Second World War veteran, said the electoral integrity bill, which aims among other things to remove the 15-year limit on “the voting rights of British expats and making it easier to cast their vote”, would deliver British nationals their “last democratic right”.
He added that many expats “worked very hard for their country and have retired abroad and decided to conclude their days somewhere else but that they had made a contribution to their country”.
Meanwhile, the British in Europe group, which has also campaigned for the vote, said “getting our vote back matters hugely”, and pointed out that “what happens in the UK affects us”.
“Many of us pay or have paid taxes and national insurance in the UK, meaning tax and pension changes affect us. Many of us have strong ties to our families and communities in the UK or children studying there. So, we are affected by changes in law and policy on social care, education and university fees and finance,” said the coalition of UK citizens in Europe in a statement.
It is believed around 4.3 million Britons of voting age live abroad, with about 3 million unable to vote because of the 15-year cut-off date.