Currently, UK electoral law removes all voting rights from British expats who have lived outside the UK for more than fifteen years. If British citizens move abroad, they can only vote in general elections and European Union elections for up to 15 years if they are registered. (However, they cannot vote in UK local elections). The United States, Switzerland, Italy, France and many other developed countries in the world allow indefinite voting rights.
Brian Cave, a spokesperson for the campaign and British expat in France for almost 14 years, believes this shows a lack of respect from the British government for long-term expats. With nearly 5.5 million Britons abroad, Cave says that "Every expatriate represents Briton. The Government doesn't want to know us".
The campaign, Votes for Expat Brits, believes that the UK should enable all its expat citizens - not just some of them - to participate fully in the political process. The removal of a fundamental right such as voting at the arbitrary time period of 15 years is wrong, says Cave. "Frankly I detest politics!", but he obviously feels strongly about the removal of this right as do many others. Even more than the vote, this policy reflects a lack of understanding and respect for the expat citizenry. Cave said "Voting is a mechanical process. What matters is representation. We want to support Britain".
Voting rights were extended to British expats in the mid-1980s, but initially only for 5 years. Since that time, its been further extended to 20 years, and then reduced to the current 15-year-limit.
The campaign was officially launched in June 2011 as an initiative of Christopher Chantrey, who was chairman of the British Community Committee in France. However, this was hardly the first time the effort had been made to change the law. Overseas branches of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have all campaigned for a change in voting restrictions at one point.
The movement has continued to grow with an on-line poll gathering over 1,850 votes of support. There are over 700 associated comments from 52 countries worldwide. In addition, a number of Members of Parliament (MPs) and peers in the House of Lords have voiced their support for a change in the law. Lord Lexden spoke to the House of Lords during the debate on Individual Electoral Registration about the issue. "Equity demands uniformity," Lord Lexden said.
The British Community Committee (BCC) of France is the UK's eighth-largest expat community and the second-largest in a non-English-speaking host country (the largest is Spain). They administer the campaign's site and provide public service to British expats worldwide.
The campaign seeks to make voting a national right wherever a British citizen chooses to live, work or retire in the world. This means repealing the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1985 (as amended by the Representation of the People Act 2000), namely - (a) section 1(3) (c) and section 1 (4) (a) (conditions to be satisfied by British citizen in order to qualify as overseas elector in relation to parliamentary election), and (b) section 3 (3) (c) and 3 (4) (a) (conditions to be satisfied by peer in order to qualify as overseas elector in relation to European Parliamentary election).
In the last general election, only about 30,000 British expats were registered as overseas voters. This reflects a general apathy in the overseas voting population. In comparison, France extends full voting rights to its almost 3 million expats and has over 1 million registered to vote in the current presidential elections. As an auxiliary goal, this campaign seeks to increase these numbers and encourage British expats to vote. The website of the Electoral Commission educates the populace and has a goal of registering 200,000 expat voters before the next general election in 2015.
They also recommend that you contact the MP for the constituency in which you were last registered to vote. (You can find your current MP by going to Parliament's Contact your MP and entering the postcode of your last address in the UK in the box headed "Members of the House of Commons".)