My grandmother has lived in the UK for 60 years, but according to David Cameron she's too foreign to vote on the EU referendum

Although Grant Shapps has helpfully reassured me that she can stay if Britain leaves...

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In 1954 my grandparents travelled from Sicily to Stoke-on-Trent so my grandfather could be part of the heroic generation who rebuilt Britain. From an idyllic village on the side of a mountain, he left Sicily to toil down a mine in Stoke-on-Trent, then fix tracks on the railways, while my grandmother worked in a clothing factory.

My grandmother, who is now 87, can normally vote in European elections but will be denied a vote in the Europe referendum just to appease the unappeasable Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers. On a decision that will be crucial for her future, she will have no say. She's an EU citizen, not a British one, and that's all that matters. It says so much about the state of Britain today that those who have done so much for our country are treated like second-class citizens.

The Conservatives say this is a decision for Britons, that is, (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) not a decision for foreigners with vested interests. No Poles or Romanians voting, thank you very much. Yet, who can vote will be anachronistic. If you hold a passport from Fiji, India or Mozambique, you will be able to vote – even if you've only lived here for a year – as Commonwealth citizens can vote in general elections. My grandmother who has lived here for 60 years won't. It doesn't make any sense.

I spoke to Grant Shapps, the former Conservative party chairman, as he travelled to Brussels this week. I probed him on his pledge in September 2014 alongside the Prime Minister to extend the vote to British expatriates, 1.3m of whom live in the EU. Shapps told me this was “a policy relating to the General Election” and “never about the EU referendum”. I wonder what the million Brits living in Spain think about this – they may be able to vote in the next general election, but on a matter that will affect their healthcare, education for their children, their pensions and their ability to settle in Spain without a visa, they will be denied the vote.

I brought the question closer to home. I told him that my family had made a huge contribution to the UK and wondered why my grandmother should be allowed to vote: “No. This is absolutely a matter for Britain”, though helpfully he did say my grandmother should be able to stay in the UK regardless of the outcome of the vote.

To say that the referendum should be carried out with the same voting rules as a general election (but not the European or local elections) is a nonsense. Why should long-standing EU citizens be denied a vote, while Commonwealth citizens can vote?

If this is about giving a vote to a generation who were not alive to vote in the 1975 referendum, then why not give the vote to 16-year-olds? At heart, this decision was forged in a panic to get a weekend of headlines in the Eurosceptic press. But it won't work. Euroscepticism won't be sated. Already the narrative is being tailored that without the EU returning to a trading block, David Cameron has failed. Yet with Greece on the verge of the abyss and Russian tanks in the Ukraine, pandering to British concerns over straight bananas and metric martyrs won't be high on the agenda in Brussels.

Euroscepticism taps into a deep vein of British xenophobia, sometimes justified, often not. No matter how much Europeans have contributed to this country, or how much Europe has led to Britain's post-war economic revival, the reactionaries will not be appeased. You can take the vote off my grandma to pander to this, but it will do nothing to change hardened hearts.