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Votes For Expats Abroad - The Campaign Goes On

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27 January 2012

Expat Brits vow to continue fighting 15-year voting rule 

A recent case at the High Court in the UK may have dealt a blow to the voting rights of Britons living abroad, but the expat lobby has vowed to fight on.

Under current UK legislation, British expatriates living elsewhere than in the UK lose their right to vote on UK matters after 15 years. Briton James Preston, a Madrid-based fund manager who has been campaigning to have the rule changed, recently took his case to the High Court. The case was dismissed and Mr Preston now intends to appeal.

Controversy has raged over this issue for some time now. One of the reasons given for persisting with the 15-year time limit has been the argument that over time, a person’s connection with the UK is likely to diminish if they are living permanently abroad. This is an argument that is dismissed by the pro-expat lobby. France-based Anita Rieu-Sicart, editor of Var Village Voice, is an active campaigner against the time limit. She has previously pointed out that expats should have rights to vote on UK issues as, among other reasons, many of them still pay taxes to the UK, and may also have children whom they send to school in the UK or could even have children or grandchildren in the British Armed Forces, arguing, therefore, that they still have a keen interest in the affairs of the UK and a right to participate in the shaping of decisions.

French Property News contacted Mark Harper MP, the minister for political and constitutional reform, for his reaction. A Cabinet Office spokesperson replied to say: "The Government welcomes the Court’s judgement that the time limit on overseas voting is lawful. The Government is considering whether the 15-year time limit remains appropriate."

During a recent heated exchange on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Brian Cave, who is based in the Lot department and runs the Pensioners Debout blog, which discusses the problems of the British pensioner living in France and Europe, said: "Many of us expats have very close links with Britain. I have a grandchild who is educated in Britain. I have children living in Britain. Am I not to be concerned with their welfare, education and the health service? Of course I am." In the same section of the show, Labour’s Lord Lipsey said that it was highly unlikely that there would be any change to the legislation.

Brian Cave is a long-time campaigner against the 15-year legislation. Talking to FPN about the Preston case, he says: "I don’t think this decision by the High Court will have a significant impact. Remember the other case of Harry Shindler before the European Court of Human Rights? He is a British World War II veteran living in Italy who petitioned the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to complain that he is no longer permitted to vote in UK elections. If he loses on that, it will go before the United Nations Court of Human Rights."

Asked if he was confident that the 15-year time limit will eventually be changed, Brian says: "Yes. I know that there are MPs who want to see it changed. The dilemma is to what? Life or another extension to X years? The second option (an extension) will achieve nothing at all." 

French Property News

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