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Disenfranchised: the political rights of Britons in Europe

Dear Briton in Europe,

Our political rights as European citizens were the first to be taken from us. On 31 January, most Britons in Europe lost our automatic right to vote in EU elections or to vote or stand in municipal elections in our host countries. At the same time, around 60% of us can no longer vote in UK elections. Unless we have obtained citizenship of our host country or there is a bilateral agreement between Britain and our host country on local elections, we have become completely disenfranchised, both in the UK and the country in which we live.

In this newsletter we look at the political rights of UK citizens in the EU: the rule which removes our right to vote in Britain after fifteen years abroad, British in Europe's longstanding campaigns on Votes for Life and voter registration, and the signing of bilateral treaties on municipal elections between Britain and Spain and Portugal.

As always, we have something to ask you. First, we request that you complete the survey below on your participation (or disenfranchisement) in recent UK elections, sent to us by Dr Sue Collard of Sussex University who is an expert in overseas voting by UK citizens. Our participation in the survey is a good way of drawing more attention to our scandalous disenfranchisement.

And, of course, if you are upset by your lack of political rights and if you want us to continue fighting for them, we ask you to donate to our crowdfunder campaign. Including direct contributions to our bank account and donations made via PayPal, we have now raised over 35,000€ and, if the donations keep coming in like this, we will be able to continue over the crucial next few months.

With best wishes,

BiE Steering Group


Most European states allow their emigrants to vote in national elections no matter how long they have been living outside the country. Prior to 1985, British citizens living overseas did not have the right to vote in UK elections at all. The Representation of the People Act 1985 enabled overseas citizens to vote in the constituency where they had previously lived, but only for a period of five years. That was extended to twenty years in 1989 but reduced to fifteen years in 2000, where it remains today.

The Overseas Electors Bill 2017-19 was a Private Member’s Bill - sponsored by MP Glyn Davies - which sought to end the 15-year time limit. However, the bill was 'talked out' by Conservative MP Philip Davies (for more about what happened, click the link below to read  an article by Dr Sue Collard).
How Tory MP Philip Davies killed the Overseas Electors Bill in March 2019.

Election Survey of Britons Abroad

By Dr Susan Collard

If you are a British citizen living outside the UK, you are invited to take part in an anonymous online survey run as an academic project by Dr Susan Collard and Professor Paul Webb from the Department of Politics at the University of Sussex. We are trying to build an up-to-date general profile of the UK’s global diaspora, which is traditionally 'hard to reach', and to investigate the political views and voting practices of Britons resident abroad.

You may have left the UK several decades ago and have no interest in UK politics, you may follow UK news every day online, or you may be somewhere in between. Whatever your particular circumstances, wherever you are, we would like as many participants as possible to take part in this original project, which is the first of its kind.
The survey is being rolled out using the ‘snowballing’ technique, which works like a chain letter, inviting people to circulate the online link to their organisations and/or to any British friends, family members and colleagues, encouraging them to complete the survey and to forward the link to their own contacts.
The survey is not funded by any external sponsor; it is a project indirectly funded from within the time contractually allocated to university academics for research. The survey findings will lead to original, evidence-based analysis to be published in a series of reports, blogs and academic articles in 2020-2021 with the aim of informing public debate over future legislation concerning the rights of non-resident British citizens.
You can access the survey and read the terms of participation on the opening page at:
British in Europe Campaign: Let Us Vote
Since early 2017, Votes For Life has been a priority in our advocacy. It is an issue we have constantly brought up and discussed during our frequent meetings with MPs and with the UK government, and when we have participated in party conferences.

In April 2019, before the UK local elections, BiE co-launched the Let us Vote campaign, and on May 8 Jane Golding spoke at the House of Commons (see photo below). In her speech, she pointed out that '"the UK’s approach on citizenship and the franchise is outdated and needs to change: otherwise vast numbers of mobile British citizens, many of whom simply moved to look for work or to study, will have no voice in any national elections anywhere and will be shut out of the democratic process.”

BiE Voter Registration Campaigns
Not only have 60% of Britons in Europe been denied a vote in UK elections, many of us who are still entitled to vote have effectively been disenfranchised because of administrative  problems such as the late arrival of postal votes or the failure of our votes to arrive back in the UK. Because of this, in 2019 we ran voter registration campaigns for the EU elections in May and for the General Election on 12 December 2019, advising our members to use proxies. 

Along with our friends at the3million, we also organised the DeniedMyVote campaign, calling on the European Commission to investigate instances of disenfranchisement through bureaucratic inefficiency in the EU elections. We scoped out the possibility of litigation against the UK government with the solicitors Bindmans. When this proved complex to carry out as a class action, we commissioned a guide for Britons in Europe unable to vote due to administrative errors, explaining how to sue individually


Bilateral Agreements on Municipal Voting Rights

One way of preserving at least some of our political rights is through bilateral agreements on local voting rights between the UK and EU member states. It was therefore encouraging to see the signing of a bilateral treaty between Spain and the UK in January 2019 - to guarantee the political rights in local elections of Britons resident in Spain and Spaniards living in the UK. This was followed up in June 2019 by a similar agreement between the UK and Portugal.

BiE groups in other countries will be pressing for comparable bilateral treaties to salvage at least some of our political rights.

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