Tag Archives: overseas electors

The Elections Act made easy

On 11 August, in celebration of ASEAN Day (8 August), the Libdems Overseas (LDO) group based in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia held a virtual meet-up with guest speaker, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. On the agenda was the very important topic of how to prepare Brits living abroad to register and vote in future general elections and national referendums.

The Act received the Royal Assent in April this year but is riddled with problems, and has yet to be brought into force by statutory instrument. It introduces amongst other things votes for life (including for those who have lived overseas for more than fifteen years) but also more stringent requirements for voting, such as photo-IDs for UK voters. This would disenfranchise about 9% of voters who currently do not possess one of the permissible forms of photo-ID. Student cards are apparently not acceptable, though pensioners Freedom passes are. The Act would also make it easier for political donations from abroad, though those over £500 would still have to be reported by the political party to the Electoral Commission.

It is therefore no surprise that Lord Wallace who led the Party in debates on the Bill has described it as a “nefarious piece of legislation”, “shabby and illiberal”. The Liberal Democrats had proposed two amendments to the Elections Bill in the House of Lords, neither of which were accepted by the UK Government:

  • A feasibility study leading to British citizens living abroad having their own overseas constituencies and Members of Parliament, as happens with France.
  • Overseas voters to be issued their ballots electronically either by email or downloaded to increase substantially the likelihood that their votes would arrive in time.
Posted in Europe / International and Lib Dem organisations | Also tagged | 3 Comments

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?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 39 Comments
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