Lib Dems in Europe welcome overseas votes, deplore exclusion from referendum
Brussels & Europe Liberal Democrats have welcomed the government's plan to guarantee voting rights for British citizens overseas, announced in today's Queen's Speech, but deplore the fact that the EU referendum will exclude overseas citizens as well as other EU citizens resident in the UK.
The Votes for Life Bill would extend voting rights for UK citizens resident abroad beyond the current 15 year limit, a change for which Liberal Democrats in Europe have long campaigned.
However, the EU Referendum Bill, which will establish an in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union by 2017, specifically excludes the votes of British citizens who have been resident outside the UK more than 15 years. The same bill will also deny citizens of other EU countries resident in the UK a say in the referendum.
This means that a total of around 4 million people who rely directly on their EU free movement rights for their residence - whether Europeans in the UK or Brits in the rest of the EU - will be disenfranchised from the question of Britain's EU membership.
Commenting, Giles Goodall, Chair of Brussels & Europe Liberal Democrats, said:
"We strongly welcome the government's plan to end the disenfranchisement of British citizens abroad, as the Liberal Democrats called for in our general election manifesto. The 15 year rule is an anomaly which must be brought to an end.
"However, it is disgraceful that the government does not see fit to give this very same group the right to vote on our future membership of the European Union, despite the fact that the future residence of around 2 million Brits living in other EU countries will be directly affected by the vote.
"It is likewise scandalous that the government wishes to deny a voice to other EU citizens, who have come to our country in good faith and now face the possibility of losing their right to remain due to a referendum in which they will not be allowed to vote.
"The government's plans are all the more bizarre given the precedent set by the Scottish independence referendum, which included citizens of other European Union countries as well as 16-18 year olds in the franchise.
"We call on the government to reconsider, and will work with like-minded parties to ensure that everyone affected by Britain's EU membership gets a say in the referendum."