What Britons in Europe need to know about the UK government’s ‘votes for life’ pledge

It's been promised before, but now the UK government says it will act to ensure that British citizens living abroad do not lose their right to vote in the UK even if they have been abroad for over 15 years. Here's what we know about the proposals.

What Britons in Europe need to know about the UK government's 'votes for life' pledge
Photo: Leon Neal/AFP

The move was first announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, with further details announced by the British government today.

But what exactly are the changes and what does “votes for life” really mean?

What are ‘votes for life’?

The new measures will allow British citizens living in another country to continue participating in the democratic process in the UK by retaining their right to vote – no matter where they live or how long they have been outside of the UK.

Currently, British citizens lose their voting rights after living abroad for 15 years.

The changes, which will form part of the Elections Bill, will also make it easier for overseas electors to remain registered for longer through an absent voting arrangement.

This means electors will have to renew their registration details every three years instead of annually.

Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, told The Local: “We have been disappointed many times over, as government manifesto promises came to nought, but this time looks and feels very different. 

“We have a government bill, money was set aside in the recent budget, and there seems to be a plan. 

“I know many will be sceptical after previous disappointments, but I believe we are finally on our way.” 

How can British people overseas use ‘votes for life’?

The new “votes for life” will apply to all British citizens living overseas who have been previously registered to vote or previously resident in the UK.

The absent voting arrangement means individuals will be able to reapply for a postal vote or refresh their proxy vote at the same time as renewing their voter registration.

However, overseas electors will only be entitled to register in respect of one UK address, with clear rules to be put in place surrounding this. The Local has asked the UK government for more details on what these rules will be.

British people wishing to register to vote under the new measures will also have to show a “demonstrable connection” to a UK address, according to the government document.

Furthermore, individuals will have to register at the last address where they were registered to vote, or at the last address where they were a resident.

The government states that someone can demonstrate their last address by checking past copies of the electoral register or local data such as tax records, or by documentary evidence or, “failing the above, an attestation from another registered elector.

The government say “if none of the above are possible, the applicant will not be able to register.”

Why is the UK government making these changes?

Unfortunately this comes too late for many Brits abroad to get a say in the thing that has had the biggest impact on their lives – Brexit – but better late than never.

A press release from the UK government states that decisions made by UK Parliament impacts British citizens who live overseas and so they should have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections.

It specifically mentions decisions made surrounding foreign policy, defence, immigration, pensions and trade deals.

Lord True, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, said: “In an increasingly global and connected world, most British citizens living overseas retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. 

“Many still have family here, have a history of hard work in the UK behind them, and some have even fought for our country.

“These measures support our vision for a truly Global Britain, opening up our democracy to British citizens living overseas who deserve to have their voices heard in our Parliament, no matter where they choose to live.”

Many other countries already give their overseas nationals the right to vote for life and some, including France, have MPs dedicated to representing nationals who live overseas.

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Danish People’s Party decimated by new high-profile departures

The anti-immigration Danish People’s Party now only has a handful of lawmakers left in parliament after four high-profile departures this weekend.

Danish People’s Party decimated by new high-profile departures

Two former deputy leaders, Søren Espersen and Peter Skaarup, who have had several high profile spokesperson roles in the right wing party, announced they were quitting its parliamentary group this weekend, as did two further members of the group, Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl and Dennis Flydtkjær.

That follows several other resignations from the parliamentary group earlier this year after Morten Messerschmidt was in January elected as the party’s new leader.

The Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DF) received 8.7 percent of the votes in the 2019 election, giving it 16 seats in parliament. It now only has six of those seats remaining following the resignations.

Those numbers are a far cry from the party’s strong showings in the early 2010s, which culminated in a 21 percent vote share and 37 seats at the 2015 general election.

DF was also on the wrong end of a trouncing in the November 2021 local elections, which elicited the resignation of former leader and party co-founder Kristian Thulesen Dahl.

Dahl remains a member of the party but last week said he would not run for DF in the next general election, set for 2023.

READ ALSO: Former leader of Danish far-right party to quit at next election

But Dahl’s official exit from the party is a “matter of hours and days”, according to political analyst Hans Engell of media Altinget.

“We are now at a decisive point because the entire top end, the founding fathers, have left the party,” Engell said to news wire Ritzau.

“All that remains is what I would call the jewel in the crown: Kristian Thulesen Dahl. It’s just a matter of hours and days before he leaves the party,” Engell said.

The analyst also said that Messerschmidt’s task in restoring the party was “almost unsolvable”.

DF co-founder Pia Kjærsgaard, who led the party until 2012, remains loyal to Messerschmidt and aimed thinly veiled criticism at Dahl on social media on Sunday.

The party’s issues are further complicated by the launch last week of a new party, Danmarksdemokraterne (“The Denmark Democrats”) by former Liberal (Venstre) party immigration minister Inger Støjberg, who was ejected from parliament late last year following a guilty verdict in a special impeachment court.

Having served her sentence for the conviction, Støjberg is now bidding to return to parliament with the newly-formed party. Given the reputation of Støjberg as an immigration hardliner, some overlap with DF’s signature politics on the area is likely.

Dahl has been linked with the new party and some of the other DF defectors have already signalled their willingness to join the project, according to Ritzau.