Tag Archives: lib dems overseas

Today is a sad day for half a million pensioners

Why on earth should it be a sad day? On this day around 11 million British state pensioners are due a 10.1% uplift in their state pensions. That is, all except some half a million living around the world who have been denied annual increases. This is due to the legacy of an unjust policy that was set in very different times over 70 years ago, but has since been maintained by successive governments to save money. 

Lib Dems Overseas have been supporting a campaign for several years to ‘unfreeze’ these pensions and we have the strong support of our leader Ed Davey alongside Lords William Wallace and Chris Rennard and Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain. We are also working closely with British overseas pension organisations in Australia, Canada and elsewhere and we are pressing for our case to be backed in the party’s next general election manifesto.

Under the frozen pension policy, those who live in certain countries that do not have reciprocal agreements with the UK are denied an annual cost-of-living increase, even though they paid their national insurance contributions in full during their working lives. The countries affected include most commonwealth nations as well as most developing countries. Some of the ‘frozen pensioners’ are fortunate in that they emigrated to Australia or Canada where the host governments provide a social net that prevents them from becoming destitute. This should be a cause for shame and embarrassment to the British government.

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Overseas Constituencies for Overseas Voters #VotesWithRepresentation

The right to vote is an intrinsic part of any democratic state. As the “United Kingdom,” we pride ourself on the rich tapestry of culture that has enacted wide-ranging legislation to protect the needs of all our citizens. Yet, representation of our overseas population, some 5.5 million citizens, is woeful. A full one million citizens, myself included, are currently disenfranchised due to an arbitrary 15-year limit, and another one million are under-age and tied to their parents’ constituency. For nearly 40 years, voter participation sat at 1-2% of all British citizens abroad and while Brexit elevated this number to 5%, its paucity is striking. So, how do we engage our citizens overseas and bring them back into the political fold?

The introduction of the Elections Bill in mid-2021 after the failure of the Overseas Electors Bill in 2019 through a Tory filibuster goes some way to achieving this but we believe it is not enough. Abolishing the 15-year rule may enfranchise a million people, but it remains just one leg of a two-leg policy that the Liberal Democrats have campaigned for in our 2017 and most recent 2019 manifesto – overseas constituencies. Without representation, participation will remain low. Where France has 11 dedicated overseas constituencies, 12 senators and a junior minister in charge of foreign constituent affairs, the UK will have none.

First enfranchised in the Representation of the People Act 1985, the new bill requires overseas citizens to register in their former UK constituency, creating an umbilical cord to a place with little incentive to campaign on our behalf. Diluted by regional concerns, “what about us?” will come the cry. Frozen pensions have severely diminished income for 500,000 of our weakest, but no collective representation has led to inaction in Westminster even after a Canadian Parliament shaming. The Brexit referendum’s 265,000 registered overseas votes out of a potential 3.5 million was shocking given the implications for free movement for them, their children and their fellow disqualified expatriates. As draconian bills such as The Police Bill and Nationality Bill progress through the house, we witness an erosion of rights and the spectre of citizenship nullification. Yet, after so many lost decades, is it any wonder the politically neutered are despondent?

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Focus on Hong Kong

This week’s news included an early “obituary” for Apple Daily, the eponymous newspaper founded by Jimmy Lai, a long-time critic of the Hong Kong and Beijing Governments.

The prediction of closure of the pro-democracy paper by the end of the week followed the arrests of the executives (including the editor-in-chief and the chief executive) and freezing of the assets of the parent company, Next Digital.  All the staff of the publication are expected to resign this week and the last issue may be the June 26 edition.

This news is remarkable to me in 2 respects: 

First, that the charges made against Apple Daily and its executives were based on breaches of the National Securities Legislation (NSL) for alleged “collusion with a foreign country” to endanger national security.  Which foreign country is implicated here?  The US, one assumes, rather than the UK, as there is a narrative that Hong Kong is a mere pawn in the US-China rivalry.  But do HKers who object to the imposition of the NSL have to collude with any external forces?  Or are they simply objecting because they do not like to see the rights and freedoms that they had grown accustomed to being taken away? 

This new crime of collusion with a foreign country or external forces (one of the 4 new crimes introduced by the NSL on 30 June 2020, the others being “secession” “subversion” and “terrorist activity”) should raise alarm bells for us in the UK too. It would suggest that the more vocal the Lib Dems are in criticising China and the NSL, the higher the risk to our members and supporters in Hong Kong.  

Secondly, the authorities have frozen the company’s core assets even before trial or any legal process, as the NSL operates outside of the HK legal system.  As the paper is unable to pay their staff and even their utility bills, they are forced to shut-down.   Here is a clear example of an attack on independent media and critics of the government in the name of national security, and attacking where it hurts, at its finances.   

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