Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) A formal campaign has been launched for overseas UK parliamentary constituencies that will represent British citizens living abroad.
The campaign gets underway as the UK government abolishes the legal bar, which currently prevents Britons who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years, from voting in UK elections.
The move followed a 20-year-long battle by Harry Shindler, a Second World War veteran and British resident in Italy to remove the so-called 15-year bar. He recently died, aged 101.
The two groups behind the initiative are New Europeans UK and Unlock Democracy.
Speaking at the launch,Dr Ruvi Ziegler, chairman of New Europeans UK, told this site: “The removal of the 15-year bar significantly strengthens the case for special representation for UK voters residing abroad.
“Whereas Britons living abroad retain substantive interests on the UK national level that justify their continued enfranchisement in Westminster elections, their links to a parliamentary constituency in the UK, which they may have left decades ago, may be weak and is likely to get even weaker with the passage of time. Conversely, their interests may chime more closely with fellow Britons living abroad, and therefore require dedicated representation.”
Further comment comes from Tom Brake, a former MP in the UK and now Director of campaign group Unlock Democracy.
He said, “With the best will in the world, I know MPs struggle to grasp the different administrative, retirement or employment challenges a UK citizen in the Czech Republic faces, compared to citizens in France, Thailand or the USA. That is why we are making the case for overseas constituency MPs who would develop expert knowledge of the problems faced by UK citizens living in different parts of the world.”
It is estimated that over 800,000 British citizens live in the EU. Three countries remain particularly popular: in 2017, some 69% of British citizens living in the EU lived in Spain, France or Germany. An estimated 30,000 Britons live in Belgium.
A 2022 report entitled ‘British citizens in the EU after Brexit’, led by Professor Michaela Benson, revealed a population which identifies as both British and European.
The report confirmed that Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have had a significantly negative impact on feelings towards the UK amongst Britons in Europe. Dissatisfaction with political disenfranchisement in the UK and abroad featured prominently among those taking part in the survey.
The report concluded that: “While the vote for life will be welcomed, more could be done to tailor the franchise, so that the extensive population of British citizens living outside the UK might have better democratic representation.”
The campaign organisers say the initiative has already built momentum with a paper in favour of overseas constituencies submitted to the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum (NPF).
It came after Labour’s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, requested more information about overseas constituencies. A briefing paper is being distributed to parliamentarians of all parties who have expressed an interest in introducing overseas constituencies.