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BRITONS IN EUROPE

‘Mixed feelings’: British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

British citizens living abroad will no longer lose their right to vote in UK elections if they have been abroad for over 15 years, after a long-term government pledge finally became law. Here's what we know about the new rules.

'Mixed feelings': British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life
Photo: Leon Neal/AFP

What’s happened?

The UK government’s Elections Bill finally passed through the House of Lords in the British parliament on Wednesday night. Part two of the bill was was hugely important for British citizens living abroad because it restored their right to vote in UK General Elections, no matter how long they have lived abroad for.

Previously the so-called ’15-year rule’ meant Brits who had been out of the country for more than 15 years lost the right to vote back home. This rule effectively barred tens of thousands of Britons abroad from voting in the 2016 EU referendum, despite the fact the result had a direct impact on their lives.

It is believed the bill now extends voting rights to some 3.5 million British nationals living around the world, over one million of those living in Europe.

The move marks a victory for those Britons who have long campaigned against the 15-year rule, none more so than 100-year-old Harry Schindler, a British citizen living in Italy who began the campaign many years ago.

What’s the reaction been like?

Whilst the reaction has been mainly positive to the change, there were reasons for Britons not to be satisfied. 

Jane Golding, former co-chair of British in Europe, and chair of British in Germany was, like many, unhappy with the another element of the bill that means voters will have to show mandatory photographic ID at the polling station, a move that critics say will make it harder for less well-off citizens and young people to vote.

“We are of course very pleased to have our votes back and pay particular tribute to the tenacious campaign that Harry Shindler has run for many years to make this happen,” Golding told The Local.

“Members of our British in Europe steering committee, including myself, have also campaigned for many years to make this a reality but it is difficult to celebrate a bill that undermines the independence of the Electoral Commission and will probably make it more difficult for lower income or disadvantaged UK resident citizens to vote. Moreover, the proof will be in the pudding: a right is only a reality when it is properly implemented.”

Sue Wilson, from Bremain in Spain also struck a similar note.

“Today’s long-awaited result brings with it mixed feelings. My 15 years outside of the UK will be up in August, so my stake in the outcome is very personal. I should feel like celebrating the overdue restoration of our democratic voting rights.

“However, it’s impossible to ignore the cost to others and to UK democracy in general. Where we are gaining back voting rights, others will be disenfranchised by the new requirement for photo ID. The bill has also removed the independence of the Electoral Commission and made it easier for foreign money to influence future elections. What should today feel like a win, sadly does not.”

What are ‘votes for life’?

The new rule will allow British citizens living in another country to continue participating in the democratic process in the UK by retaining their right to vote – no matter where they live or how long they have been outside of the UK.

The changes were part of the Elections Bill, and also make it easier for overseas electors to remain registered for longer through an absent voting arrangement.

This means electors will have to renew their registration details every three years instead of annually.

How can British people overseas use ‘votes for life’?

The new “votes for life” will apply to all British citizens living overseas who have been previously registered to vote or previously resident in the UK.

The absent voting arrangement means individuals will be able to reapply for a postal vote or refresh their proxy vote at the same time as renewing their voter registration.

However, overseas electors will only be entitled to register in respect of one UK address, with clear rules put in place surrounding this. 

British people wishing to register to vote under the new measures will also have to show a “demonstrable connection” to a UK address.

Furthermore, individuals will have to register in the constituency of the last address where they were registered to vote, or the last address where they were a resident.

The government states that someone can demonstrate their last address by checking past copies of the electoral register or local data such as tax records, or by documentary evidence or, “failing the above, an attestation from another registered elector”.

Why has the UK government made these changes?

Unfortunately this comes too late for many Brits abroad to get a say in the thing that has had the biggest impact on their lives – Brexit – but it’s better late than never.

In a previous press release, the UK government stated that decisions made by UK Parliament impacts British citizens who live overseas and so they should have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections.

It specifically mentions decisions made surrounding foreign policy, defence, immigration, pensions and trade deals.

But issues such as NHS access, UK university fees, nationality and border measures are also of huge significance to Britons living abroad.

Lord True, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, said previously: “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.

“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.”

More could  be done for Brits abroad

Many other countries already give their overseas nationals the right to vote for life and some, including France, have MPs dedicated to representing nationals who live overseas.

But an amendment put forward by the Lib Dem party to give Britons abroad MPs was rejected.

The Lib Dems also criticised the British government for failing to streamline the voting process to make it easier for Britons to vote from abroad. The government rejected a call to move to electronic voting for those overseas to replace postal voting.

Member comments

  1. “Unfortunately this comes too late for many Brits abroad to get a say in the thing that has had the biggest impact on their lives – Brexit – but it’s better late than never.”

    No it’s really not . Brexit is a total unnecessary toxic mess and as a European resident i would have liked to have had a say. I have no interest in voting in a country i don’t live in. I would prefer to vote in France where the election process has an impact on my life.

  2. Don’t hold your breath. I just spoke with the Electoral Registration Office in Edinburgh, Scotland. According to the agent there, the law will only come into effect in June 2023. Make a note in your diary for next year. 😉

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TRAVEL NEWS

Passports: What are the post-Brexit rules for dual-nationals travelling in Europe?

People who have more than one citizenship often hold multiple passports, so what does this mean for crossing borders? Here's what you should know.

Passports: What are the post-Brexit rules for dual-nationals travelling in Europe?

For many readers of The Local, gaining citizenship of the country where they live helps them to feel more settled – but there are also travel benefits, including avoiding the long ‘non EU’ queue when coming back into the Schengen zone.

But this week the problems associated with travelling while holding dual citizenship came to light, leaving many people wondering what they should know when they are entering different countries.

Put simply – which passport should you use? And do you have to carry both with you?

Financial Times journalist Chris Giles tweeted that the UK Border Force “detained” his dual-national daughter while she was travelling from France into the UK with her German passport – and not her British one. 

He went on to say that UK border guards released his daughter. According to Giles, the border staff said she should have had both passports with her “and asked why she was travelling on her German one”.

The rules on dual-nationality have not changed, but now that the UK is not in the EU, there are strict rules on non-Brits who enter the country (and vice-versa) which has made it trickier for travel.

For instance, UK nationals receive a stamp in their passport when entering Schengen member states because they are only allowed to stay up to 90 days within an 180 period (unless they have a visa or residency card).

READ ALSO: Brexit: EU asks border police not to stamp passports of British residents 

People coming from the EU to the UK can generally visit as a tourist for up to six months without a visa – but are not allowed to carry out any work while there.

So which passport should you show?

The first thing to be aware of is there are no specific rules on travelling with more than one passport. 

Travellers can choose to use whichever passport they prefer when going to a country. 

But one thing to note is that it’s worth using the passport that is best suited to your destination when travelling there. Each country has its own set of immigration and visa rules that you’ll need to research closely.

It could be that one passport is better suited for your trip – and you may be able to avoid visa requirements.  

READ ALSO: How powerful is the German passport?

In the case of the UK, many people are still getting to grips with the different rules that apply because it’s not in the EU anymore.

A question submitted to the Secretary of State for the Home Department in September 2021 provided some insight into this issue. 

The question from Labour’s Paul Blomfield asked what steps the UK government “is taking to enable dual UK and EU citizens to travel to the UK on an EU member state passport without having to further prove their UK citizenship?”

The Conservatives Kevin Foster said: “Border Force Officers examine all arriving passengers to establish whether they are British citizens, whether they require leave to enter or if they are exempt from immigration control.

“Where the passenger claims to be British, but does not hold any evidence of British citizenship, the officer will conduct all relevant checks to satisfy themselves the passenger is British.

Border control at Hamburg airport.

Border control at Hamburg airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

“When dual nationals who are eligible to use e-gates travel to the UK, they will enter via the e-gates without being examined by an immigration officer.

“We recommend all dual nationals, including EU citizens, travel on their British passport or with evidence or their British citizenship to minimise any potential delay at the border or when commencing their journey.”

The Local contacted the UK Home Office to ask if there was any official advice. 

A spokesman said: “An individual can present whichever passport they desire to enter the UK, however they will be subject to the entry requirements associated with the nationality of the passport they present.”

They said anyone who is looking for more information should check out guidance on entering the UK and on dual nationality.

In short, if you present a German passport on entry to the UK you will be treated the same as any other German citizen – which can include being quizzed about your reasons for visiting the UK – as border guards have no way of knowing that you are a dual-national. 

Do I have to carry both passports?

There’s no rule requiring you to have both passports, but you won’t get the benefits of a British passport (entry into the UK without questions) if you don’t show it.

Likewise if you are a French-British dual national and you enter France on your UK passport, you will need to use the non-EU queue and may have your passport stamped.

Should I think about anything else?

An important thing to remember is that if you apply for a visa and register your passport details, the same passport has to be used to enter the country. 

It could also make sense to travel with both passports, just in case. 

However, note that some countries – like the US – require that US nationals use a US passport to enter and leave the States even if they are dual nationals. 

In general, it’s best to use the same passport you entered a country with to depart.

The rules and systems are different depending on the country. But many countries require people to show their passport when leaving – and they will either stamp or scan the passport – this is how authorities know that a foreign visitor hasn’t overstayed their time in the country. 

So if your passport is checked as you leave the UK, you should show the one you arrived with, just to ensure there is a record of you arriving and leaving.

However as you enter France/Germany/other EU destination, you can show your EU passport in order to maximise the travel benefits of freedom of movement.

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