EURef: Disenfranchised Brits lose in High Court


In a test case brought by two British citizens who have lives outside the UK for more than 15 years, the High Court has ruled that the state can deny them the right to vote.

It is estimated that 700,000 people are affected by the decision.  The Conservatives have pledged to scrap the restriction for future elections (in which they calculate it will assist them).

The court ruled that Parliament is entitled to restrict the franchise to those with a specified “closeness” to the country and also said it would be difficult to amend the register to include the new voters as a database of them is not kept.

The latter point seems doubtful.  New voters are added to the register frequently. Most registrations are accepted on their face.  There is not usually an external register of people who could register to vote against which it is checked.

The claimants’ solicitors are applying for permission to appeal to to the Supreme Court.


* Antony Hook was #2 on the South East European list in 2014, is the English Party's representative on the Federal Executive and produces this sites EU Referendum Roundup.

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  • Tom Papworth 3rd May '16 - 1:16pm

    I am surprised this is constitutionally controversial. Parliament does and always has defined who can and cannot vote. It would be odd if the High Court ruled that parliament did not have the right to define the franchise.

    The specifics of the case may be controversial, but parliament’s right to decide seems unquestionable.

  • How does one “disenfranchise” someone who does not have a franchise?

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 21 states:
    Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
    Everyone means every citizen.

  • I feel that they should have the right to vote, but their relationship with the UK needs to be reappraised. All British citizens living abroad should also file tax returns, and those not paying tax elsewhere (or paying a derisory amount) should be happy to pay UK tax instead. This would be a good demonstration of their continuing links to this country.

  • Emma
    In most countries abroad, those working are required to a file tax return in the country they live.(In the hell on earth of some Middle East countries no one would work there if they had to pay tax. Although under the Finance Acts they may be liable for British tax in some circumstances) Under double taxation agreements they are not required to pay tax twice.
    In the UK there are people who don’t pay tax, people who stay home to bring up children, claimants etc. Should they be stripped of the vote?
    Maybe people should not work overseas but just live on the dole.

  • @Manfarang – re: Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country

    From the discussions here over the years, I query just what is now meant by “his/her country”. I suspect when the declaration was penned, people were thinking about having the right to vote in the country they were physically resident in. Now I suspect it is something less clear cut and tangible.

  • Matt (Bristol) 4th May '16 - 10:33am

    This is basically about two different conceptions of voting rights / citizenship in the Western/democratic worldview.

    Historically, in a monarchy, people were defined as ‘subjects’ if they owned or lived on territory under the rule or jurisdiction of that monarch (ie they were subject to the laws proclaimed by that monarch). Democracy and parliamentary sovereignty were added onto this idea later, with the vote being given to subjects gradually as a series of concessions made by the monarch/parliament. During the process, variations such as multiple votes for those owning multiple properties, were tried and discarded. (Let’s not talk about university MPs voted for my graduates of those universities, which is an even odder diversion).

    Technically, all UK citizens continue to live in a residency-based democracy which is what happens when you take a property-based democracy and reduce the value of the land you must own/rent to be able to vote down to zero – it remains that without an address at which you are resident at the time of voting, you cannot vote.

    Since the French revolution defined that the French people were sovereign, and that the nation was made up of individual citizens, there is this idea of an inherent right to a say that goes with the person when they leave the territory subject to the rule of ‘their’ government. The USA and Ireland also have this.

    For me, we must choose one system or the other. Both have pros and cons.

    I don’t particularly mind which – but I don’t see why referenda should have a separate set of rules from parliamentary elections … this also applies to the voting age rules too, in theory.

  • Matt (Bristol) 4th May '16 - 10:35am

    Roaldn / manfarang – I think the wording is deliberately ambiguous to allow for the two different conceptions of citizenship to coexist.

  • Matt (Bristol) 4th May '16 - 10:53am

    Oh, and, ideologically speaking, in a hypothetical world where ex-pats can vote, does the right to vote of a British subject / ‘citizen’ derive from their supposedly single national identity as ‘British’, or from their identity as a member of a individual nation of the UK?

    If the latter, then the constituent nations are sovereign and there is a theoretical right of secession to the sovereign constituent nations.

  • I would be reasonably happy with this ruling if it also meant that non-UK citizens resident in this country for more than 15 years were given a vote in the matter.

  • David Evershed 4th May '16 - 11:29am

    No taxation without representation.

    And similarly ….

    No representation without taxation.

  • @Matt (Bristol) – thanks for the excellent contribution.

  • Matt (Bristol)
    The right to vote of a British citizen overseas derives from their single national identity as British. Irish citizens living abroad cannot vote in elections.Irish citizens resident in the UK can vote in British elections as can British citizens resident in the Republic.

  • David Evershed
    Should the unemployed lose the vote because they are not paying any taxation?

  • @ David Evershed “No representation without taxation”. Shurely Shome mistake ?

    That places you firmly in the pre-1918 Representation of the People Act period………… and doesn’t exactly square with the Lib Dem policy of raising the tax threshold. “Vote for us because we’ve taken you out of tax”…. oops ……”Sorry, we can’t now”.

  • Matt (Bristol) 4th May '16 - 8:56pm

    Manfarang — I apologise for getting it wrong about Ireland — although the previous government had promised a referendum last year on whether Irish ex-pats should be allowed to vote in presidential elections (but not parliamentary ones) which has now been postponed (as has been the announcement of the new Irish government, of course).

    As to the single national identity as British — the slipperiness of the ‘British subject’ model of citizenship based on loyalty (or at least consent) to the crown has allowed the country to sidestep the construction of a British nationalist ideology (whereas France and the US have gone the whole hog).

    I am not sure we could now successfully insist in law that everyone born in or holding some kind of allegiance to the territory of the UK is ‘British’ in the same way that French understand ‘French-ness’ and obtain a universal acceptance of this…

    The French solution of parliamentary constituencies for overseas citizens remains the most extreme example of national-identity/citizenship-based voting I can think of.

    Roland – thanks!

  • Matt (Bristol)
    Being born in Britain in Britain no longer automatically gives British citizenship. Only in Nothern Ireland is there an allegiance question. Most of the people of Scotland know what the price of oil is. The English don’t go around waving the George Cross. Amongst those of a familybackground of the former Empire who are settled In Britain there is a strong sense of Britishness.
    Lets hope Britishness involves a dose of Liberalism.

  • Richard Underhill 11th May '16 - 12:01pm

    We should remind Tory voters that William Hague (Foreign Secretary 2010-2015) supports Remain and David Cameron. He writes frequently in the Daily Telegraph, most recently on the effects for Gibraltar, the Falklands and Northern Ireland.

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