Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to hold a snap general election on 8 June means British voters who have been in Majorca for over 15 years will once again be denied their say, after being promised they would have a vote.
Last year, the Tory government announced it would introduce a bill to scrap the unpopular 15-year-limit on expatriate voting rights in time for the next general election.
But after May made the shock announcement on Tuesday, it’s clear that the limit will not be ditched in time, meaning tens of thousands of long-term expatriates living in Spain and elsewhere around the world will not get a vote again.
British citizens living abroad, who had successfully campaigned against the 15-year-rule for many years, will no doubt be furious at the thought of not having a vote once again, despite being promised it.
Many long-term British expatriates were angry at not having a vote in the 2015 general election and in particular the momentous 2016 Brexit referendum which had a direct impact on them.
The Conservative government had included a pledge to scrap the 15-year-limit in its 2015 election manifesto and last year announced the "votes for life" bill would be drawn up. Yesterday, Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, who has for years fought for and defended the rights of Britons overseas, told the Bulletin: "Not surprisingly I have received a number of queries about the status of the ‘Votes for Life’ legislation proposed in the last Conservative manifesto.
"The commitment, made in good faith, was to have the legislation and supporting franchise infrastructure approved by the Electoral Commission on the statute book in time for a 2020 general election, and my understanding from Chris Skidmore in the Cabinet Office is that that process was on track at the time that the prime minister announced her intention to seek an election on 8 June.
"It gives me no pleasure to have to say that there is no prospect of this process being expedited, as some have sought to suggest, by the time that Parliament is dissolved on 2/3 May.
"Only agreed and non-contentious measures will be allowed to pass through both Houses of Parliament - and a ‘Votes for Life’ bill will have to go through both Houses before the House is prorogued. All other (contentious) measures will have to be carried over or reintroduced in the next parliament.
"The short answer to the ‘why was it not done sooner’ question is that the measure is contentious - it is not supported by the Labour and Liberal parties in an Upper House in which the Government does not have a majority. There is an additional complication, as explained to me by Chris Grayling when he was leader of the House, which is that the bill will be a franchise measure and, under the ‘long title’, amendable in the House of Lords.
"That House is known to want to extend the franchise to sixteen year-olds - a measure that is in itself contentious - and is likely to seek to use a ‘Votes for Life’ bill as a vehicle to achieve other objectives. The horse-trading process will therefore take time that is simply no longer available in this parliament.
"I am sorry to have to offer blunt and disappointing news but can only say that I, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and others who support the ‘Votes for Life’ cause, will seek to ensure that this is contained within our party’s manifesto and introduced as early as possible in the next parliament."
However, as the law still stands, hundreds of thousands of expatriates here in Spain can vote if they have been registered to vote in the United Kingdom in the past 15 years. If you are a UK citizen living abroad, you can apply to be an overseas voter. To register to vote in England, Scotland or Wales, you can register online in the same way as all other voters in Great Britain. Register online any time at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
To register to vote in Northern Ireland, visit the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland website to download the correct form.
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