By Michael Jarvis, London UK
British citizens living in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere abroad will soon be able to vote in UK elections regardless of how long they've been out of the country.
In what amounts to a major policy shift, the UK government says it’s scrapping what it refers to as “the arbitrary rule that prevents British citizens from voting in General Elections if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years.”
According to an official statement, the measures which were first proposed in the recent Queen’s Speech, “will make it easier for British citizens who have moved abroad to participate in our democracy.”
The government says, “Decisions made in the UK Parliament on foreign policy, defence, immigration, pensions and trade deals affect British citizens who live overseas. It is therefore right that they have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections.”
Following the initial announcement in the Queen Speech outlining the UK government’s legislative and policy programme, further details have now been outlined on how the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson intends to go about implementing the new plan.
The changes which will form part of the Elections Bill, will also include measures to enable overseas electors to stay registered for longer and will offer absentee voting.
UK Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, Lord True, said:
“In an increasingly global and connected world, most British citizens living overseas retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family here, have a history of hard work in the UK behind them, and some have even fought for our country.”
He further stated: “These measures support our vision for a truly Global Britain, opening up our democracy to British citizens living overseas who deserve to have their voices heard in our Parliament, no matter where they choose to live.”
“Our proposals fulfil a manifesto commitment to deliver ‘votes for life’, extending the voting franchise for General Elections to all British citizens living overseas who have been previously registered or previously resident in the UK,” Lord True added.
The new rules will mean overseas UK voters can stay registered for longer on the electoral roll. It will also have an absent voting arrangement in place, requiring them to renew their registration details once every three years, rather than annually.
Overseas British voters will also be able to reapply for a postal vote or refresh their proxy vote at the same time as renewing their voter registration.
The government says this will streamline the process and help to ensure that appropriate voting arrangements are in place for overseas voters ahead of an election.
The government statement also explained that persons who are entitled to vote should always be able to exercise that right “freely, securely and in an informed way”.
Under the proposals which will be drafted into law, overseas British electors will only be entitled to register in respect of one UK address.
The government says it will also put in place clear rules regarding the address under which an overseas elector may register, while also ensuring that the individual continues to have a demonstrable connection to a UK address.
Currently, to register as an overseas elector, a person must be a British citizen and have been registered to vote in UK Parliamentary Elections in the UK within the previous 15 years, although in some cases a person may register if they were too young to have been registered before leaving the country.
Voters registered in the UK but living abroad will continue to be able to vote by proxy, by post, or in person if they happen to be in their constituency on polling day.