Long-term British expats not allowed to vote in EU referendum

Two thirds of British expats living in Europe are worried about the impact a possible Brexit would have upon their lives, according to a new study from deVere Group. Long-term expats, though, will not have a say when the UK referendum on its EU membership takes place on 23rd June.

People who live overseas for more than 15 years are automatically removed from the UK register for elections, but the high court last week rejected an appeal to grant those millions of UK citizens permission to vote in the referendum. The challenge, filed by two expats in Italy and Belgium, argued that under the EU Referendum Act 2015, they were unlawfully being denied the right to vote.

Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mr Justice Blake, however, reasserted the UK’s right to a cut-off period for those who might have weakened their ties with their home country, adding that there would be “significant practical difficulties about adopting, especially for this referendum, a new electoral register which includes non-resident British citizens whose last residence in the UK was more than 15 years ago”.

“[Electoral registration officers] have no straightforward means of checking the previous residence status of British citizens who have been resident overseas for longer than 15 years,” added Mr. Justice Blake.

Richard Stein, the solicitor who represented the claimants, told The Guardian they would take the appeal to the supreme court.

“We believe that there is precedent for fast-track legislation being put through parliament in a matter of days in response to court judgment, so there would be no need for the referendum to be delayed if the supreme court rules in our favour,” he told the newspaper. “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.”

It is certainly an issue that concerns those citizens on the continent. 68 per cent of Brits living in Europe told deVere that they were worried about a Brexit, with 24 per cent not concerned and 8 per cent unsure about whether it would impact their lives.

The poll covered expats in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Nigel Green, the chief executive of deVere Group, commented: “The possibility of Britain leaving the EU could potentially impact the lives of British expats in Europe more than it does on the lives of those who reside in the UK.”

Areas that could be impacted include financial concerns, such as sterling weakening against the euro.

“This would lead to higher mortgage rates even if the Bank of England leaves its policy rate unchanged as it tries to calm the domestic economy,” suggested Green. “House prices can be expected to fall, triggered by buy to letters wanting to sell rather than roll-over more expensive mortgages.”

The other would perhaps be more keenly felt by those enjoying their lives abroad, as a Brexit could lead to the government renegotiating issues such as pensions and healthcare with other European countries.