Implications of the European Union Referendum Bill

We have all heard about the European Union Referendum Bill but I suspect most do not realise how close we are to it becoming law. Whether you are a Europhile or Europhobe, you may be interested to know that the Bill will be getting its 3rd reading in the Lords today (1 Dec), after which there will be no more opportunity for the introduction of any new amendments.

I have to confess that I live in a household of Europhiles. My husband spent the early part of his life between aged 2 and 11 living in France, then Netherlands, as his late father was the English Head of the AFCENT International School for families of NATO. My in-laws subsequently retired in France and my step mother-in-law still lives there. She will sadly be barred from voting in the EU Referendum even though it could affect her right to continue to live in France. Brits who have lived abroad for more than 15 years do not currently have the right to vote in any UK elections, let alone in the EU Referendum.

Another group that is barred from the EU Referendum are the 2.7 million European nationals who currently live in the UK and who have made UK their home. Despite their contributing to the UK economy, through work and payment of taxes, they will risk being uprooted from their friends and family should Britain exit the EU. Some of my European friends have felt so aggrieved by this that they have actually chosen to become naturalised as British. I know others who prefer to retain their nationality for sentimental reasons. Speaking for myself I only became naturalised when I decided to enter politics in the UK but had always had the right to vote as a Commonwealth citizen. Europeans and Commonwealth citizens being treated differently is of course historic – hence we have Cypriots and Maltese, for example, being able to vote in the EU Referendum but not, say, the French or Italians.

There is a third group that we LibDems have been fighting to give the vote to: 16 and 17 year olds. An amendment was successfully introduced by the Lords to the Bill to give them the vote but when the Bill returns to the Commons, there is no guarantee that the amendment will be accepted. We therefore need to put pressure on Tory back benchers to ensure that the Bill and this amendment will pass.

In addition you can sign the petition launched by the European Movement (a cross party organisation working at grass roots level) on this:

Also watch the video as you hear directly from the young people on why they should have a say in the Referendum and that it is better to be IN Europe. 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote in the Scottish Referendum so why not their counterparts in England and Wales?

If you agree with the above points then join me and others in the Party to campaign to raise awareness regarding the implications of the EU Referendum Bill. Let us give a voice to everyone, whether British or European, whether young or old, and fight against our sleep walking into Brexit.

Merlene Emerson is a member of Communities for Europe, a sub group of the European Movement due to launch early next year (watch this space!)

* Merlene was co-founder of Chinese Liberal Democrats and on the executive of the LibDems Overseas. She co-edited “Rise of China – Fresh Insights and Observations” published by the Paddy Ashdown Forum (2021)

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  • Richard Underhill 1st Dec '15 - 10:55am

    Merlene Emerson | Tue 1st December 2015 – 8:51 am Dual nationality is also an issue. The UK allows it. Therefore those taking up UK nationality are not giving up their own nationality if there current (usually first) nation allows.
    Andrew Hickey 1st Dec ’15 – 10:25am Yes, a British citizen friend of mine married an American who has had indefinite leave to remain in the UK for about 45 years, but has never applied for UK nationality as well, despite being turned back once trying to enter France on a valid US passport without a visa for France.
    Editor/s: We are still geting large adverts for Gatwick obscuring part of the text. The problem is not obviated by scrolling up or down.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Dec '15 - 11:15am

    Robert Wootton 30th Nov ’15 – 10:00pm Please support long-established party policy and do what you can to encourage widening of the franchise at this opportunity.

  • immigrants from America, Russia, or China, say, don’t get to vote at all, even though elections affect them too

    And we (rightly) don’t get to vote for the President of the USA, but who it is affects us too.

  • @Richard – re: large adverts for Gatwick

    If you scroll up and display the top of the ad, you should see a white ‘X’ in the top left-hand corner – yes against the sky blue it is easily missed, click on this and the ad will shrink.

    Unfortunately, this poor use of contrasting colours, is something that is all too common today, it being part of the current design ethos. It just reminds me of Douglas Adams “Every time I press one of these black controls, labelled in black on a black background, a little black light lights up black to let me know I’ve done it.”

  • Let’s hope the amendment to extend voting to 16~17 gets thrown out. Then we will have the same electorate as voted in 1975 and there will be grounds for people to complain about the result being rigged.

    Remember the issue isn’t about votes for this month’s deserving cause, but about our future relationship with the EU. I am concerned that much effort is being put into a diversion from the main agenda item, when much more effort needs to be put into building the case for remaining in the EU.

  • Alfred Motspur 1st Dec '15 - 6:13pm

    Dav, I think that all citizens, regardless of nationality, should have the right to vote in all UK elections if they have lived here for the past five years, and I think this is incomparable to UK citizens being allowed to vote for the President of the USA.

    The laws passed by local council and central government directly affect a resident’s life: they must live by their laws and they must live by their taxes. I don’t think it’s fair that someone should have to do this without having some kind of say in it as a law-abiding resident contributing to our society and economy, and from this comes the principle of no taxation without representation.

    There are individuals who have lived in the UK for decades even longer than 18 years, which is the minimum voting age – but simply because of their nationality (and, by extension, the circumstances of their birth), they cannot vote in a single UK election to elect the people who decide their laws and taxes, and thus affect them directly and significantly. I think that’s a grave injustice in our representative democracy.

    So, Dav, of course, whoever the President of the USA is affects virtually everyone globally, but the Senate doesn’t legislate for the UK and doesn’t decide the UK’s taxes – so as a UK resident, it doesn’t legislate for us nor impose us with its taxes either. And if we’re not American residents paying American taxes, living by American laws and contributing to America’s society and economy, why should we have the right to vote in American elections?

    In my view, it’s not just about whether it affects you or not: it’s about *how much* it affects you, where your taxes go, where your laws are made and which society and economy you contribute to.

    So, when it comes to the EU referendum, I think it’s a great shame that EU citizens won’t have the vote because they’ll be especially affected by the result. Equally, though, I understand the reservation that campaigning now for them to have the vote can easily be perceived as an undemocratic attempt to gerrymander the result, seeing as EU citizens can be expected to vote ‘in’ overwhelmingly. I question whether that’s in the interests of a referendum perceived to be honest, fair and definitive by both sides of the debate.

  • Tania Halacheff 2nd Dec '15 - 12:12am

    I agree with Marlene Emerson. We all should fight against Brexit.

  • There is one problem with this question of allowing residents to vote after a small period of living in this country.

    Why should those people in the long established communities bother with voting at all if they see that their constituencies are changed overnight by large numbers of incomers.

    This is a problem of identity – if I no longer identify with the community around me, why should I take part in a process that doesn’t represent them.

    What the writer proposes could well lead to people giving up on the democratic process – and to achieve a short term end, at that.

    I raise once again the point that the LibDems weren’t so assiduous regarding democracy when the Lisbon Treaty was rammed down our throats; contradictions like this give our politics the reputation it so deserves.

  • all ‘The people’ would refer equally to EU citizens and acknowledging UK citizens are a segment of that larger group

    But that’s exactly the point: UK citizens are not a ‘segment of that larger group’ because the EU is not a country.

    British citizens are not a subgroup of EU citizens in the way that, say, citizens of Utah are a subgroup of citizens of the USA, or Scottish citizens are a subgroup of British citizens.

    This is because the UK is not a territory of a federal country called ‘Europe’, but is a sovereign nation. Therefore EU citizenship is a sort of ‘extra bonus’ that British citizens get through being British citizens, a sort of ex officio membership of a club. It is not a superior citizenship of which British citizenship, Spanish citizenship, Romanian citizenship, etc, are types.

    And the reason we want to vote ‘leave’ is to prevent it ever happening that the EU turns into a federal country, with Britain merely a territory of it, Westminster merely a regional assembly like a local council or Holyrood or Stormont, and Brussels a level of superior authority above it, the ECJ a supreme court above our courts, etc.

    Therefore it makes no sense to give those who are not British citizens a say in the decision.

    To return to an analogy I have used before: imagine a family has been running their house as a B&B for a while, and now some of them want to stop and just enjoy the house to themselves, so they arrange to have a meeting and a vote. Obviously the decision they reach will affect, for exacle, people who come on holiday there every year, or long-term residents who will have to find somewhere else to live. But should those people get a vote? Clearly not, because the people who have the right to decide what to do with the house are those who own it, ie, the family.

    If I moved to the USA, I wouldn’t get a vote, and I wouldn’t expect one, unless I became a citizen. Similarly here: people who have become citizens can vote, people who haven’t, can’t. That is fair and right.

  • Democracy is rule by the demos. There is no European demos; there is the British demos, the German demos, the Italian demos, etc etc.

    There are currently efforts to forge a European demos, but the decision as to whether the British want to be part of such a project clearly should be made by the British alone.

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