Brit expats reject chance to vote in Brexit referendum

Published:  20 May at 6 PM
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Inexplicably, only a small fraction of UK expats living in EU member states have registered to vote in the June 23 Brexit referendum.

The several million British expatriates living, retiring and working in Europe could have made up a key constituency with strong influence over the results of the referendum. Endless media reports assumed that the threat of losing the right to residency, to work, to benefit from free healthcare and to continue receiving annual state pension upgrades would result in a stampede in favour of remaining in the EU.

Massive publicity, British embassy campaigns, a House of Lords’ committee report emphasising the precarious position of expats who are no longer EU citizens and even cheap flight offers from Ryaniar all seem to have been a total waste of time and energy. Of the several million expats eligible to vote, slightly less than 200,000 have bothered to register online.

As a result, expat input into the result of the referendum may well be less that one per cent of the total number of prospective voters. An article written by European Minister David Lidington and published in expat locations across Europe made the point that most expats living in EU member states still maintain strong ties with the UK via family and friends, and may well be thinking of returning to the UK at some point. Surely, he added, this alone should encourage participation in the most crucial vote for several generations?

Overseas voters, he said, can still apply online or by post to vote by proxy or personally up until June 7. Research on behalf of the Electoral Commission suggests a good number of expats believe wrongly that they are not entitled to a vote. This misapprehension may well be the result of misinterpreting the controversial 15 year rule, under which British citizens who’ve lived for more than 15 years are automatically disenfranchised. Another Electoral Commission report said estimates of the true numbers of Brits living overseas suggest a total of 5.5 million or more.
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