The British government has decided to scrap the rule that stops British people from voting in elections if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years.
The measure was included in the recent Queen’s Speech, and has been explained in a statement by the British Embassy in Brussels.
At the moment, British people living abroad, otherwise known as expats, are only allowed to vote if they were registered to vote in the past 15 years. Beyond that deadline, they cannot vote.
But many British expats have been living abroad for longer – think of long-serving EU officials, or British retirees in Portugal.
While they can always apply for residency of their adopted country and obtain voting rights there, issues in British elections may still be important to them in the business or private lives.
The most important example of that in recent decades came in 2016, when long-time expats in the EU were banned from voting in a Brexit referendum that would arguably affect their own lives more than the lives of many Britons at home.
“Decisions made in the UK Parliament on foreign policy, defence, immigration, pensions and trade deals affect British citizens who live overseas,” the embassy says. “It is therefore right that they have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections.”
The changes will form part of the forthcoming Elections Bill, which will allow expats to remain registered to vote for longer, and put in place an absentee voting plan.
“In an increasingly global and connected world, most British citizens living overseas retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family here, have a history of hard work in the UK behind them, and some have even fought for our country,” commented Lord True, minister of state for the Cabinet Office.
“These measures support our vision for a truly Global Britain, opening up our democracy to British citizens living overseas who deserve to have their voices heard in our Parliament, no matter where they choose to live.”
“This is great news for all UK nationals living in Belgium. The issue of having the right to vote for life has been raised many times during my conversations with British nationals in Belgium, so I understand how important this is for them,” said British ambassador to Belgium, Martin Shearman.
“This will ensure that Brits in Belgium, who still have deep ties with the UK, can continue to participate in the British democratic process, no matter how long ago they left the UK.”