High Court ruling on expat voting disenfranchisement to be delayed

Published:  21 Apr at 6 PM
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Following this week’s High Court hearing, British expats in Europe are now waiting for the court to make a ruling on the controversial issue.

The long-awaited legal challenge of the UK government's ruling of disenfranchisement for expats living overseas for over 15 years has resulted in the High Court reserving judgment on the issue. Lawyers for plaintiffs Harry Shindler and Jacquelyn MacLennan argued that expats who’ve lived overseas for more than 15 years were ‘on the horns of an impossible dilemma’ as they would need to relocate to Britain to have a say in their own futures as regards work, location and lifestyle.

The 15-year rule has long been considered discriminatory by long-term expats overseas, particularly recently as expats from over 50 Commonwealth countries resident in Britain can vote on June 23. According to Aidan O’Neill QC, Britons are granted EU citizenship due to the UK’s membership in the European Union, allowing them the right to work, live and retire in any EU member state. They can also own property, receive free healthcare backed by finances provided by the NHS. Should Britain leave the EU, said Mr O’Neill, the best UK expats can hope for is to be regarded as resident aliens.

He pointed out that the government promised in its election manifesto to abolish the 15-year rule, adding that no official reason has been given for keeping it alive to include the referendum. A further argument by Mr O’Neill highlighted the government’s lack of explanation as to their legitimate aim in imposing the restriction at this point in time, particularly as the government has no real idea how many expats are affected.

British expats are scattered all over the EU states, with Spain home to the most at 319,144, followed by Ireland at 249,392 and France at 171,346. Germany hosts just under 100,000 Brits, Greece has 18,067 and Italy 65975. Even the former Soviet block countries have a UK expat presence, and Russia herself has 1708 British residents. Totals in EU states run into the low millions, with up to half that number possibly affected by a Brexit, plus the unknown number of UK expatriates living, working and retiring elsewhere in the world.

Having heard the arguments, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mr Justice Blake said they would need time to fully consider the points made, adding they were aware of the urgency and importance of their decision. Should they rule in favour of the plaintiffs, the government may be forced into rushed legislation allowing all expats the right to vote. In that case, a delay in the referendum may well be the result.
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