Citizenship – a human right

It is Liberal Democrat Party policy to bring forward legislation to create overseas constituencies and votes for life for the British diaspora abroad. The Election Manifestos of 2017 and 2019 are explicit on this matter. Currently, British citizens living outside the UK loose their right to vote in Parliamentary elections and referenda after 15 years of absence; their enfranchisement ceases. After BREXIT, Britons living in the European Union will loose their local voting rights (European Parliamentary and Municipal Elections) and as they pass the 15 year threshold, they become completely disenfranchised for life. Is this democratic? No, this is an infringement of their human rights!

This situation is merely a symptom of a much deep problem; it cuts to the core of the rights of British citizens in general and not just of those living abroad. We have all heard of the Windrush scandal, fewer are aware of the enforced displacement of the Chagossians from the British Indian Ocean Territory and recently more will be aware of the human rights infringements of the British Chinese, primarily in Hong Kong. These examples, along with the impending disenfranchisement of Britons living Europe are human rights violations. But why? The unreformed UK State post empire is not fit for purpose. Whereas 21st century democracies have codified the rights and responsibilities of their citizenry in law, the UK has steadfastly refused to address the systemic failures of an unwritten constitution.

UK Common Law has not kept pace with the needs of British citizens in a globalised world and especially does not define ’British Citizen’ in terms of what a ‘British Citizen’ can expect from the State and what the State can expect from its citizenry. A ‘Civil Code’, such as exists in most countries, would contain this definition. A factor in being a ‘British Citizen’ is the right to vote and be represented in Parliament.

There is a spectrum of consequential benefits to the recognition of universal rights of British citizens wherever they may live in our global village. For the citizen, the right to State protection worldwide as opposed to the refusal by the Government to meet ransom demands from kidnappers whatever the circumstances; a bi-product of tacit support for the offshore re-insurance industry and US political hegemony. For the British State, a single Electoral Registration Office to administer Overseas Constituencies would bolster consular support for Britons abroad. The Overseas Territories (tax havens) would become more transparent and thus make their full contribution to UK taxation!

The case for Overseas Constituencies is important and urgent. It is a fundamental matter of human rights and it is doorway into opening the discussion about the rights and responsibilities of the British State and its citizenry. Let’s stand up for our own human rights.

The original paper can be viewed our Local Party Website. Click on “What does it mean to be a British Citizen”

* Paul Fisher is the Chair of Liberal Democrats in France.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Am not sure about this, Will the citizens still be paying UK tax ? If not, what is democratic about having our elections here decided by a bunch of sunburnt daily mail reading expats on the Costas? Surely if you move abroad you intend to take up rights and vote there. I think the current 15 yrs is more than adequate.

  • Peter Hayes 9th Dec '19 - 6:00pm

    Not certain about Johnm choice of language but if you have lived overseas for 15 years and have not learned the language to a standard to get citizenship why should tax payers have to provide an escape route when you need NHS treatment? My partner was a language teacher, in France they assumed she was Dutch because the English don’t speak with such a good accent and fluency!

  • Peter, sorry, the comment about expats is because people who know me know that I have links with the sunnier climes of Spain, it was almost a self-deprecating caricature, but there’s no reason anyone here would know that. I don’t read the Daily Mail, though it is massively the best selling English language paper out there, sadly.

    Had I stayed in Spain, worked there, maybe retired, would (should?) I be able to vote in UK elections or flee back the UK if I couldn’t communicate with the – very excellent – Spanish healthcare system? Especially if I were living in the sun for ‘tax reasons’ ?

    Just think this needs more thought.

  • Nonconformistradical 9th Dec '19 - 9:26pm

    OK it’s Wikipedia – but there’s quite a variety of voting rights for expats across the planet.

  • Arnold Kiel 9th Dec '19 - 9:38pm

    I would add prison-inmates to the list of citizens with a right to vote. Otherwise, the term rehabilitation is an empty phrase.

    It would also de-incentivise the Tories from incarcerating ever more people for longer, one of their enduring signature-policies.

  • @Arnold Kiel

    “I would add prison-inmates to the list of citizens with a right to vote. Otherwise, the term rehabilitation is an empty phrase.”

    I disagree, a prisoner has to “work” towards getting their liberty back again THAT is what rehabilitation is about, it is not something that can be given free on a platter, otherwise how does rehabilitation work unless it is part of a process?
    Also, in what constituency should a Prisoner be allowed to vote? is it in the city that they lived in and committed the crime? or is in the constituency of the HMP prison in which they now reside which could be in any part of the country and how would that be fair on the law abiding citizens of that constituency who may now have many hundreds of voters voting in that election who have no ties to that community whatsoever apart from the fact that they are serving time in prison?

  • There are plenty of countries where you can not get citizenship however well you speak the language and however long you stay but many people enjoy becoming citizens of nowhere for the tax advantages. BTW UK expats only pay tax on their UK income – as long as they meet the non tax residence requirements – and lose the right to use the NHS once non-resident (the NI department informs the NHS but if you went non-resident before they started doing this you may well still be registered with your doctor and able to get free healthcare – otherwise you get it after being UK resident again for two years).

    Not sure whom you would vote for if an expat and don’t have a residence in the UK, though? Much prefer the LibDems to offer an electronic voting system than this, taking registration away from the councils who have caused a huge increase in ID theft by putting too many details in their voter’s registration database. The existing govn databases based on NI and passport/driving licence provide the basis for an electronic voting system (and have an option if you are not on the passport/DL database) and should be a lot more secure than the existing registration system (and not available for searches other than police et al).

  • If you have decided to relocate to a different country and live there permanently, why on earth should you expect to vote in the general elections of the country you have abandoned?

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Dec '19 - 10:17am

    Regarding prisoners voting, would murderers get two votes? Their own and their victims?
    Peter Sutcliffe could have fourteen votes.

  • Mack
    There has been mass unemployment in Britain and still more than a million unemployed today. For some going abroad to work is the only option. It is not a case of abandoning the country but being abandoned by the country.

  • Johnm
    No one will ask you if you have paid your tax at the polling station. Students still get the vote even though they don’t pay tax as will others. In most countries foreigners working there will be required to pay tax to the authorities in that country. UK citizens are required to pay tax on income arising in the UK from investments and rents etc.

  • If we had electronic voting this would save a fortune, avoid schools etc having to close on election day, the results would be known shortly after the deadline and people would not have to stay up through the night and listen to all those TV pundits. Heaven !
    We could have postal votes for those who do not have the necessary electronic equipment, which could be counted just before the deadline but the result not given until afterwards.

  • Peter Hayes
    Those who work in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia will not get citizenship of those countries in those regions no matter how long they have lived there or how well they speak the language.

  • Nonconformistradical 10th Dec '19 - 12:20pm

    @Dennis Wake
    Sorry but electronic voting would just become another opportunity for manipulation of the election and there would no longer be a means of reviewing a disputed result i.e. going through the ballot papers.

    And nobody is forcing you to sit up all night.

  • Peter Hirst 10th Dec '19 - 1:45pm

    What about the human rights of inhabitants of these islands who don’t want someone who has had no contact with this country for 15 years to help decide how our country is run?

  • Nonconformistradical 10th Dec '19 - 3:29pm

    @Peter Hirst
    If it was proposed to change the law to allow expats who have been abroad for more than 15 years to vote in a UK general election, anyone who doesn’t like it is perfectly free to campaign against such a law change and to support a political party which doesn’t approve of such a change. It’s called democracy!

    Found this

    but have no idea what happened to it.

  • Mark Seaman 10th Dec '19 - 5:54pm

    No taxation without representation. But … to allow people the right to vote in elections when they live abroad and will not be affected by the results of that vote is a major error. I would not argue for No representation without taxation, but there has to be a point where someone has lived abroad so long that they cease to have a direct say in how this country is run. Considering that more than one Lib-dem candidate has, over the years, stated that they won an election by the votes cast by people actually living in the constituency, but lost due to the (Tory) expat vote, it’s a mugs game to try and extend the 15 year limit.

  • Voting in municipal elections depends on the laws of the receiving country. There are places where it’s open to all permanent residents regardless of EU status.

  • Peter Hirst
    What makes you think Britons living abroad cease to have contact with the UK?
    I was in the UK last month and what did I see, people living on the streets. It is not something I remember seeing as a youngster.

  • chris moore 11th Dec '19 - 2:18pm

    Mark Seaman 10th Dec ’19 – 5:54pm
    No taxation without representation. But … to allow people the right to vote in elections when they live abroad and will not be affected by the results of that vote is a major error

    I’ve lived away from the UK for twenty years.

    I am still critically affected by political decisions made in the UK. You may not have heard of an obscure political issue called “Brexit”. And there are numerous other impacts.

    And I still pay some UK tax.

    On this one, you are mistaken.

    Have a fine last day.

  • Peter Watson 11th Dec '19 - 2:59pm

    “The Election Manifestos of 2017 and 2019 are explicit on this matter.”
    The problem with this “Liberal Democrat Party policy to bring forward legislation to create overseas constituencies and votes for life for the British diaspora abroad” is the timing. Regardless of any intrinsic merits it may have, it looks like a cynical attempt at gerrymandering for any second referendum on Brexit and that risks derailing what might be an important reform in its own right. A similar argument could apply to votes at 16 but at least that was policy long before the EU Referendum.

  • Nonconformistradical: I do not stay up all night and go to bed at my normal time but why would the media have an all night results service if some people did not do it. The cost of providing it must be colossal with all those highly paid pundits predicting things when the full results will be known by the time most normal people get up in the morning. I can remember when the Orkney and Shetland result came out at about lunchtime on the Saturday following Thursday’s election but Parliament decided that all votes must be counted overnight despite the cost. When I was at school we used to go to hear the returning officer declare the result from the balcony of the counting hall at lunch time on the following day – a better participation in democracy than staying up at night, though results in urban areas were counted at night by about midnight, not 6 am. Lots of people used to come to hear the result which they would not have done at 2 am.
    When was the last time the ballot papers were examined in a disputed result ? Surely there must be a way to do that electronically .
    I would have thought electronic voting would be more accurate and avoid recounts which often provide quite different figures at each recount.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Dec '19 - 12:39pm

    @Dennis Wake
    The current system of ballot papers provides an audit trail which can be observed visually. No-one can observe the counting of electronic ballots – which makes them open to unobserved tampering.

    Post-result examination of ballot papers was involved in the Winchester situation in 1997 when the tories issued an election petition following the LD majority of 2 or 3. It was found that a number of ballot papers, well in excess of the majority, did not carry the official mark and hence should not have been included. I think there have been some examinations of ballot papers over concerns of postal vote fraud in more recent years.

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