Exclusive: Millions of expat votes will be wooed for 2015 election

‘Missing’ Britons living abroad will be encouraged to register

Although they might have retired to the Costa del Sol, moved to Sydney in search of sunshine or been lured to Dubai by the promise of lavish salaries, three million “missing” Britons could hold the key to success or failure at the general election in 2015.

Fewer than 20,000 are still registered to vote in Britain, even though they are entitled to cast a ballot if they have lived in this country in the last 15 years.

A major drive will be launched this year to track the expats down and encourage them to add their names to the electoral register in time for the European elections next May and the 2015 general election.

People living overseas could also qualify to vote in any potential referendum on whether to pull out of the European Union.

The overseas recruitment drive could prove hugely significant in a closely-fought election.

Forty-two MPs were elected with majorities of less than 1,000 in 2010; if a few dozen voters could be persuaded to cast their ballots from Benidorm or Bondi, that could make all the difference in Bolton West or Broxtowe.

The Electoral Commission is drawing up plans for an online campaign targeted at people using email accounts abroad which were initially set up in Britain.

Reminders to register will also be sent to people overseas who use online search terms showing an interest in British politics and advertisements will be placed on the BBC and news websites known to be regularly accessed by UK nationals. Advertisements will also be taken on radio stations popular with Britons and expat newspapers.

Estimates of numbers of Britons nationals abroad vary between 4.5m and 5.5m. If those who have lived overseas for more than 15 years or are aged under 18 are excluded, more than three million could still be entitled to vote.

The Commission's top target countries will be Spain and Australia, each of which is home to around one million expats, followed by France, where some 500,000 British nationals live.

It will also focus on the United States, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

The Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who is active in the Conservatives Abroad organisation, said last night: “It is pretty poor that these people are disenfranchised. If three million people were disenfranchised for a particular reason in this country, there would be an awful row about it.”

The Commission has already opened talks with embassies and consulates in the ten countries with the aim of helping them to get a “use your vote” message to expatriate communities. It is also giving advice to the major political parties, which all run overseas operations, to identify potential voters.

Mr Clifton-Brown challenged the Commission to set itself the target of registering 100,000 overseas voters as a “way of really concentrating minds”.

It has refused to be drawn on targets, but a campaign ahead of the last general election in 2010 led to more than 40,000 overseas registration forms being downloaded.

The number could be substantially higher this time because UK nationals will be able to register online next summer following the launch of a new electoral registration system.

The moves are in addition to the annual campaign to urge members of the armed services who are stationed abroad, and their families, to register. The largest numbers of non-operational troops are in Germany, followed by Cyprus.

Conservatives have tended to assume they would have the most to gain from more expats being added to the electoral register and make vigorous efforts to stay in touch with overseas supporters.

Some Tories claim the Labour government deliberately neglected to encourage the Electoral Commission to reach out to overseas voters.

Overseas voting: The rules

British nationals abroad can vote if they have lived in Britain in the previous 15 years. They are not allowed to choose where they vote; it has to be in the constituency where they were last on the electoral roll.

They are entitled to vote in elections to Westminster and the European Parliament, as well as national plebiscites such as the 2011 referendum on changing the electoral system.

They may not vote in local elections or contests for devolved bodies such as the Greater London Authority, Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - Financial Services - OTE £65,000

£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Underwriter

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £23,000

£13500 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning, Bolton base...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future