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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Protests erupt across France as anger over pension reform grows

Thousands demonstrated across France on Monday night in protest of pension reform, after the government survived two votes of no-confidence. Police said over 250 arrests were made amid clashes between groups of demonstrators and riot police.

Protests erupt across France as anger over pension reform grows

Protests erupted across France on Monday night after the French prime minister and her government survived two votes of no-confidence following a move to push pension reform through parliament without a vote in the Assemblée Nationale.

The first vote, brought by the centrist Liot coalition, managed to garner 278 votes, just nine short of the necessary 287 MPs needed to topple the government. The second vote, brought by the far-right, National Rally party, was overwhelmingly rejected.

READ MORE: Calendar: The latest French pension strike dates to remember

Following the votes, clashes between police and protesters took place in several French cities.

French police arrested 287 people throughout France throughout Monday night, 234 of which were in the capital, according to Le Parisien.

In Paris, a procession of a few hundred people met at the behest of opposition leaders near the Place Vauban after the results of the votes were announced. As police led protesters away, smaller groups scattered, with some lighting fires to garbage cans and damaging billboards, namely near the Saint-Lazare train station.

More clashes between police and protesters occurred near the Bastille area later in the evening and continued until after midnight with fires being lit throughout nearby streets. Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters with several officers reported injured.

Several videos circulated on social media, leading political leaders and others to call into question law enforcement’s use of force.

Member of the left-wing France Unbowed party, Antoine Léaument shared a video on Twitter on Monday of people being hit by batons near Chatelet. The lawmaker denounced the video calling President Emmanuel Macron “the shame of Europe” and judging the images “worthy of the worst authoritarian regimes”.

Other French cities, such as Lille, Dijon, Rennes, Nantes and Strasbourg, experienced similarly tense scenes.

A protester runs with an umbrella to protect himself from
tear gas during a demonstration in Dijon on Monday night (Photo by ARNAUD FINISTRE / AFP)

In Strasbourg, large crowds were recorded and some protesters reportedly smashed the windows of a department store, according to AFP correspondents.

Opposition leaders also spoke out after the two votes of no-confidence failed. Leader of the France Unbowed party (LFI), Jean-Luc Mélenchon called for a “people’s demonstration” of no-confidence in the government.

Mélenchon said during a press briefing on Monday that he hoped the “people’s censure of the government would be expressed across the country, in all places and in all circumstances, and that this will allow us to have the bill withdrawn”.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said on Tuesday that he would appear on the TF1 television channel at 1pm on Wednesday to answer questions from journalists and broadcasters, after having largely remained silent on the pension changes in the weeks leading up to the stormy parliament session where it was pushed through last week.

Union leaders have also called for another day of mobilisation Thursday, March 23rd. You can find more information about upcoming strike action in France HERE.