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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Spain’s Feijóo loses parliamentary vote to become PM

Alberto Núñez Feijóo saw his bid to become Spain's next prime minister rejected by parliament on Wednesday, with the right-wing opposition leader lacking the support to pass a key vote.

Spain's Feijóo loses parliamentary vote to become PM

The result, which saw 172 votes in favour to 178 against, sets in motion a two-month countdown to new elections, unless outgoing Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez can garner sufficient support to pass an identical vote to be inaugurated as premier.

Sánchez, who has repeatedly demonstrated his capacity for political survival, is confident he will be returned to power with the support of the far left along with Basque and Catalan regional parties.

Despite winning the most votes in July’s inconclusive election, Feijóo on Wednesday was only able to muster the support of 172 lawmakers from his right-wing Popular Party (PP), the far-right Vox and two other tiny factions.

To be inaugurated as prime minister, he needed a majority of 176 in the 350-seat parliament.

He was unable to garner the necessary support due to his alliance with Vox, whose extreme positions have left the PP almost totally alienated.

Feijóo will also face a second vote on Friday that requires a simple majority of more votes in favour than against. But there too, he has little to no chance of winning sufficient support.

Next week, King Felipe VI is expected to task Sánchez with forming a government although the date for a new investiture vote has yet to be set. If he too fails, Spain will be forced to hold elections, most likely in January.

‘Selling Spain down the river’

Acutely aware of his lack of support, Feijóo used his parliamentary address on Tuesday to launch a blistering attack on Sánchez over his planned deal with a hardline Catalan separatist party cast in the role of kingmaker.

In exchange for its support, the separatist JxCat wants an amnesty for those facing legal action over the failed 2017 Catalan separatist bid, including for its leader Carles Puigdemont who led the independence drive then fled Spain to avoid prosecution.

In concluding the debate ahead of the vote, Feijóo lashed out at Sánchez for giving in to “blackmail by those who do not believe in Spain”.

Feijóo saw his bid to become Spain’s next prime minister rejected by parliament, with the right-wing opposition leader lacking the support to pass a key vote. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

“Whether Sánchez will end up being prime minister or not depends entirely on what Puigdemont wants,” Feijóo had said on Tuesday, referring to a man viewed by the Spanish right as public enemy number one.

“What the pro-independence movement is proposing… is a direct attack on the essential democratic values of our country.”

And his deputy Cuca Gamarra also attacked Sánchez for being “ready to sell Spain down the river at any price purely to get something that’s exclusively in his own interest”.

On Sunday, around 40,000 flag-waving protesters hit the streets of Madrid to denounce JxCat’s amnesty demand, which Feijóo blasted as tantamount to “blackmail”.

Approving an amnesty to stay in power would be dangerous for Sánchez as it is not only a red line for the right but also for elements within his own Socialist Party.

Although Sánchez’s government in 2021 pardoned around a dozen Catalan separatist leaders jailed over the failed secession bid, he has yet to speak publicly about the amnesty issue, saying only he would be “faithful to the policy of normalisation in Catalonia”.