Britons living abroad regain right to vote in UK elections as 15-year rule ends

London: An estimated 3 million Britons living abroad for more than 15 years will regain their right to vote in all elections in the UK from Tuesday, ending 20 years of broken promises by successive UK governments.

The end of the so-called 15-year rule means millions more could be enfranchised in time for the next general election, the date of which has yet to be decided by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

The campaign group British in Europe said the change in the law brought the UK in line with other major democracies which allow lifelong voting rights, including the US, France, Italy and Canada.

“Voting is a basic citizenship right regardless of where someone lives. This is a historic change to the UK franchise after years of campaigning by ourselves and others, particularly long-term campaigner Harry Shindler, who sadly died before he could use his hard-won vote,” said co-chair Jane Golding.

The campaign group is partnering with the Electoral Commission to answer frequently asked questions around the issue and raise awareness overseas.

Voters interested in having their say in parliamentary elections can register at the last constituency in which they were registered or where they have lived if they were not registered before, a step valuable to those who moved abroad as young adults who had never voted in UK elections.

The secondary legislation enabling the vote went through on 18 December, a relief to those who had been let down by so many previous governments promising to enfranchise long-term British overseas residents.

It also brings to an end an almost 20-year battle by the late Harry Shindler, who challenged the 15-year limit on voting rights in the high court in 2016. When successive governments failed to deliver on their manifesto promises he brought the case to the European court of justice.

While he remained sceptical, he never gave up hope his campaign would finally bear fruit and in March 2022 declared his battle was “nearly over” when legislation was finally drafted and he lived to see it pass through parliament.

The concept of a lifelong vote is not universally supported in parliament. Paul Scriven, a Liberal Democrat life peer, questioned how it could be right that someone who had not lived in the UK for 50 years could have a say in policies that did not directly affect them.

Golding argues that Britons abroad are affected by many of the same electoral concerns as those living in the UK, including health and care for the elderly, education policy for overseas children sent to school or university in the UK and the immigration policy which impinges on non-British spouses.