Universal suffrage for British citizens – Fact or Fiction

While many readers of Lib Dem’s voice will believe that the fight for universal suffrage is something from a bygone age, it is very much a topic of concern for many British citizens. Although travel has been heavily curtailed during the current pandemic, it has long been a quintessential part of being British, exploring, assisting the development of new countries and forging an existence in any far-flung part of the world. Brits live on every continent and probably in every country. This has allowed our country to become truly multicultural, as Brits coming home to live or bring a part of where they have been with them. Whether living in a former British territory, a crown colony, or in a country not affiliated with Britain, after 15 years, you lose your right to vote. This is a situation that left an estimated 700,000 Brits unable to vote in Brexit elections.

With an estimated 5 million Brits living overseas, this is becoming a topic but consider this situation. In Bermuda, we have British Governor, and Bermudians carry British passports. Bermudians are permitted to move to the UK and live there and, after 12 months, they also get a right to vote in the UK. Having lived in Bermuda for 19 of the past 22 years, I am fortunate enough to have been permitted to become a British Overseas Territory Citizen (‘BOTC’). I duly swore my allegiance to the Crown, and the Governor granted me this right, to once again be British. As a person who was born and grew up in the UK, this in its own right was strange. The BOTC gives me the right to do everything in Bermuda except vote. So, I now cannot vote in the UK, and I cannot vote in Bermuda. I cannot vote anywhere despite being British (twice!). This state of affairs is not democratic in any way. With the most basic right a citizen should have that of a right to vote not being granted, does a citizen have any obligation to the state in return, or is the decision to be a philosophical anarchist acceptable in this scenario. With three children, who will never get the right to vote in Bermuda, it is possible they will never get the right to vote in the UK, and their children, well, as we stand, they don’t even get to be British. If you have reached this far in this article, congratulations, this is a supposed democratic leader in the free world not permitting its citizens the right to vote. Come on, folks, let’s get basic things right.

* Steve Castree is a member of the Liberal Democrats Overseas Executive Committee.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • James Baillie 3rd Jun '20 - 11:19am

    Agreed fully with this – though we should equally be extending the franchise to non-citizen residents of the UK as well. For democracy to work, everyone who has a stake, whether through citizenship or residency, deserves a say in how they are governed.

  • James Baillie .Will you be bring this up in the coming video conference? It could be a way of attracting future voters.

  • Confused. If you already had a UK passport, what was the purpose of achieving BOTC status? (ie. what can you do now that you couldn’t do with a UK passport). Also if BOTC doesn’t give voting rights, it would seem to indicate that Bermudians must have some other form of British passport – which would imply you applied for the wrong one if the objective of the exercise was to be able to vote in Bermuda.

    As for your children, their citizenship status arises wholly out of your actions and the decisions you made.

  • If you are happy to pay UK income tax and capital gains on your overseas money then you should have the right to vote, if not (as is generally the case) then why have the right but make no contribution. If you don’t want to live in the UK why do you want to vote on things that don’t affect you? It just seems a bit off.

  • Frank West
    Personally I have paid for education courses in the UK while I have been living abroad. This an example of how those Brits abroad send cash back to Britain. Others develop business connections that help the UK economy. The idea that Brits overseas contribute nothing is not true. Things such as Brexit can very much affect British citizens living abroad.

  • Julian Tisi 4th Jun '20 - 1:53pm

    The issue appears to be that Bermuda has overly restrictive rules about who can vote there, even if you’ve lived there for years. Can you not apply to become Bermudan and thus have the right to vote there?

    I completely agree that if you are British, then work abroad for a few years you ought to be able to vote in the UK. However if you’ve lived abroad for that long you could argue you have voted with your feet?

  • Peter Hirst 4th Jun '20 - 5:40pm

    Leaving Bermuda aside for a moment, there are questions around the link with the uk that would allow exiles to vote and return here. I feel there must be some constant association whether that is holidays or trips, owning property or paying taxes. Otherwise we run the risk of allowing some to vote while disallowing those who have made it their home.

  • Peter Martin 5th Jun '20 - 8:42am

    @ Steve Castree,

    Bermudans, along with Gibraltarians, Isle of Man residents, Channel Islanders etc like the idea of being British – but only up to a point. They don’t like the idea of paying VAT at 20% plus income tax at up to 45% plus all the other taxes we “real Brits” have to pay. But they do want to be able to vote here and, if the worst comes to the worst, and they do, like the Falkland Islanders, need rescuing after being invaded by a foreign power then we’re expected to do the rescuing!

    I would certainly agree with your last sentence. “Come on, folks, let’s get basic things right!” The basic thing, though, has to include obligations as well as rights.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Jun '20 - 10:42am

    “I would certainly agree with your last sentence. “Come on, folks, let’s get basic things right!” The basic thing, though, has to include obligations as well as rights.”

    Fair point. Bermuda has a reputation as a tax haven.

    Maybe “No representation without taxation” should apply? Depending perhaps on the nature of any tax treaties in force between the UK and the country of residence?

  • Nonconformistradical
    I don’t think foreigners working in Britain and paying taxes get the right to vote.

  • Britons working abroad and paying taxes to the authorities in those countries aren’t given the vote in most of those countries either.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Jun '20 - 5:38pm

    I was referring to issues surrounding Brits living overseas and voting rights in UK.

  • Voting rights in the UK are not based on payment of taxes and in many countries overseas, resident foreigners are required to pay tax on their earnings to the tax authorities in those countries.

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