Baroness Joan Walmsley writes….Tories ensure more taxation without representation

It was Thomas Mayhew, minister of the West Church in Martha’s Vineyard, who coined the slogan “No taxation without representation” in 1750, capturing in that phrase one of the major causes of the American civil war.

Of course, this phrase reflected a clause of the Magna Carta, written in 1215.

British citizens who live outside of the United Kingdom are currently entitled to vote in elections for only 15 years after leaving the UK, but the Conservatives promised to extend this to lifetime enfranchisement in their 2015 election manifesto. The Tories said they were intent on “scrapping the rule that bars British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting” and would introduce “votes for life”, opening up registration to more of the five million Britons who live abroad. (There are currently less than a quarter of a million overseas residents registered to vote.)

In the last Queen’s Speech, there was a proposal for a “Votes for Life” bill, which would end this disenfranchisement after an arbitrary 15 years, enabling expats to continue voting in UK Parliamentary and European Parliamentary elections. It would also make it easier for overseas electors to cast their votes in time to be counted.

This promise has been broken. It seems it was all too difficult. It was also too difficult, when it came to the referendum, even to get the voting papers to those expats who were entitled to vote, since many did not receive their postal votes in time.

One council had to re-issue all the overseas postal packs (requesting voters to only return one of them). Another told voters that the papers had not been dispatched because of a “clerical error”. The Electoral Commission  recommended that “…access to the voting process should be improved for overseas electors.”

Yesterday, I asked the Minister, during question time, what plans the government have to allow British citizens who have lived outside the United Kingdom for more than 15 years to vote in the forthcoming General Election.

The response on behalf of the government was that it had not had time to meet this commitment but would do so in the next Parliament.

Many of our British expats pay UK income tax, often at the higher rate – and more often than some allegedly “overseas” companies. Many intend to return to the UK when they retire from their overseas job. They are entitled to a say in how their taxes are spent and, indeed, at this crucial time, the future direction of the country.

The Government has had two years to fulfil its promise but I believe it is afraid of how these people will vote, given that its choice of a hard Brexit has ruined the lives of many British expats currently living in EU countries. Shame on the Tory Government!

* Joan Walmsley is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords

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  • American war of independence rather than civil war, I think

  • Alan Depauw 26th Apr '17 - 1:05pm

    Compare and contrast. Not only do French citizens living abroad retain their voting rights, they are directly represented in the National Assembly by 11 deputies.

  • “Tories ensure more taxation without representation”
    But that would also seem to be a LibDem policy, namely, ensuring overseas property owners, businesses etc. pay UK taxes – on their UK holdings and earnings, without these people having UK voting rights…

    Now with respect to UK nationals then I think we do need to be clear and I agree with Alan Depauw, we could (and should) learn from the French. Given the way our current electoral roll is maintained ie. each year you have to positively act to remain on the roll, I don’t see a problem. If oversea’s nationals are interested in the concerns of home then they will maintain their registration.

    The French approach also provides a way for the various UK dependencies to be explicitly represented in Westminster.

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