Supreme Court last ditch chance for disenfranchised UK expat voters

Published:  23 May at 6 PM
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Following a Court of Appeal rejection last Friday, disenfranchised UK expats who’ve lived overseas for more than 15 years are pinning their fading hopes on the Supreme Court.

Friday’s Court of Appeal ruling by Lady Justice King, Lord Dyson and Lord Justice Elias upheld the original decision that British voting law did not legally interfere with the EU’s right of freedom of movement. Leigh Day lawyer Richard Stein, acting for 95-year old Harry Shindler and Jacqueline MacLennan, told reporters that an emergency Supreme Court hearing would take place Tuesday.

Stein said the court had confirmed it was waiting on emergency legal submissions, adding that cases usually take years before being heard in Britain’s highest court. Last Friday, Lord Dyson said the Appeal Court's reason for rejecting the appeal was that no common law power, including voting rights, is able to declare legislation as unconstitutional.

Controversy exists as to how many expat Brits are affected by the ban, with several hundred thousand the lowest estimate and several million the highest. However, it’s considered that the majority of expats living in European Union member states would be likely to support Britain’s remaining in the EU due to the effect of a Brexit on their lives.

According to Shindler, he’s waiting with bated breath for the government’s explanation as to why all British citizens living in Europe can’t vote on June 23. The government, he says, had already agreed as part of its election manifesto to scrap the discriminatory rule prior to the referendum date as it was ‘arbitrary and undemocratic’.

MacLennan made it clear that, as with possibly several million other long-term expats, Brexit would severely affect her professional life as a lawyer and her personal life as a resident of Belgium. She is a partner in a global law firm’s Brussels office and specialises in EU environmental and competition law.

Social media commentators are finding it difficult to understand why the government, intent as it is on persuading UK citizens to vote to stay in the EU, should not intervene to ensure long-term expats with the most to lose are able to vote. Many, like Shindler, are elderly and still paying UK tax on their pensions, as well as having made strong connections with their chosen countries of residence. To be suddenly uprooted and forced back to the UK without having a say in their future seems at best unfair and at worst indefensible.
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