Judges rule that long-term expats should not have EU vote

2016-05-13 07:00:00

Hopes of long-term British expats of being able to vote in the EU referendum have been dashed after two judges in London rejected an application for a judicial review on Thursday. However, the fight is not over yet.
The case had been brought by 94-year-old World War II veteran Harry Shindler, who lives in Italy, and lawyer Jacquelyn MacLennan, who is a Belgian resident.
They had claimed that the so-called ‘15-year rule’, which means that British citizens who have been outside the country for more than that period of time are unable to vote in the referendum, is discriminatory and is unlawful because it restricts their right to freedom of movement which is enshrined in EU law.
They argued that all British people living in Europe will be directly affected by the result of the EU referendum, whether they have been abroad for 15 years or not, because if Britain votes to leave they will lose their status as EU citizens and would become ‘resident aliens’ who are unable to claim the protections under EU law.
Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mr Justice Blake, however, ruled that Section 2 of the EU Referendum Act 2015 does not restrict the rights of long-term expats and have turned down the application for a judicial review.
Around two million British expats all over the world will be able to vote in the EU referendum, and that figure could double if the vote were to be extended to those who have been abroad for longer than 15 years.
The British government, which has promised to overturn the 15-year rule for expats with regard to General Elections in the UK but refused to apply this to the EU referendum, has welcomed the judges’ ruling.
A spokesman said that the franchise for the EU referendum had been debated, considered and agreed by both Houses of Parliament and is enshrined in law.
The government had also been concerned that the EU referendum, which has been set for June 23rd, might have to be postponed if arrangements had to be made for those who have been outside the UK for over 15 years to vote.
In their ruling, the judges said that there were “significant practical difficulties about adopting especially for this referendum a new electoral register which includes non-resident British citizens whose last residence in the United Kingdom was more than 15 years ago,” and that “in our view, Parliament could legitimately take the view that electors who satisfy the test of closeness of connection set by the 15-year rule form an appropriate group to vote on the question whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union.”
Richard Stein, a lawyer acting for Mr Shindler and Ms MacLennan, has confirmed that they intend to appeal to the Supreme Court.
“Since this is a vote in a referendum rather than in an election there is no need to link the votes of Britons in Europe to any particular constituency in the UK. Possession of a British passport should be enough,” he said.
“We believe that there is precedent for fast track legislation being put through Parliament in a matter of days in response to court judgement, so there would be no need for the referendum to be delayed if the Supreme Court rules in our favour.”source surinenglish