Let Us Vote: New campaign launched to give everyone living in UK the right to vote in elections

MPs say existing laws that stop 10 million people voting should 'shame us as a society'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 05 April 2019 18:26 BST
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A new campaign has been launched to give everyone living in the UK the right to vote in elections and referendums, with MPs saying current voting laws should "shame us as a society".

The major change would see all UK residents, plus British citizens living abroad, allowed to vote in general elections regardless of their citizenship.

Commonwealth and Irish nationals are currently the only non-Britons allowed to vote in general elections and referendums, while EU citizens can vote in local and European elections. UK citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years are also not allowed to vote.

Campaigners said current laws mean 10 million UK residents and Britons overseas are disqualified from voting.

The "Let Us Vote" campaign, which has the backing of more than a dozen MPs and peers, is seeking new legislation to extend the voting franchise, which has not changed significantly since the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1969.

It has been launched by campaign groups the3million, representing EU nationals in the UK, British in Europe, which represents UK citizens in the EU, and anti-Brexit group Another Europe is Possible. The campaign says it is strictly neutral on Brexit and party politics.

In an open letter published in The Independent, supporters including MPs, peers, and NGO leaders wrote: “The outcome of the next few weeks in politics could determine the course of our lives for decades to come.

"But many of the people who are most affected by the current situation - migrants living in the UK, and UK citizens living abroad - have never been offered the chance to have a stake in our democracy.

“Whatever our views on Brexit and party politics, we are united in the belief that it is fundamentally wrong that so many millions of people whose lives will be deeply affected by developments at Westminster are currently denied a vote.”

The letter was signed by Labour MPs Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Clive Lewis, David Lammy and Stephen Doughty, plus Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran.

Film director Mike Leigh, scientist Martin Rees and nine members of the House of Lords are also backing the campaign.

Mr Russell-Moyle, MP for Brighton Kemptown, said: “The fact that millions of people who live in this country and have made lives here are denied a vote in how they are governed ought to shame us as a society. The past few years have taught us that not just public services, but fundamental rights and the right to live in the place you call home, can be threatened and undermined by politicians who claim to speak for all of us.

"This period has also taught us how inadequate Britain’s democratic institutions are. MPs have a responsibility to fight for the rights of those who have been silenced, and that is what I intend to do.”

Writing for The Independent, Alex Fernandes, a Portuguese national living in London and a supporter of the Another Europe is Possible group, said: "We are tired of being spoken about in parliament without ever being heard within it.

"For as long as migrants like me cannot vote, we will always be reliant on the good will of a political class who are fundamentally unaccountable to us. If the last few years tell us anything, it’s that good will is simply not enough. It is time for the UK electorate to expand to cover the people affected by its government’s policies. Let us vote."

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In another article, Jane Golding, co-chair of the British in Europe group that represents UK nationals living in EU countries, said: "Historically the UK has prided itself on being ahead of the curve on democratic progress, but it is actually going against the progressive trend. 22 of our EU neighbours give their citizens the unconditional right to vote, some even have their own constituencies, with MPs dedicated to legislation that affects overseas citizens. Many countries around the world give their citizens votes for life, including the US.

"In our global, interconnected world, what happens in one country has direct repercussions on its citizens wherever they live. But rather than giving everyone affected by decisions at Westminster the vote, our current system is a patchwork of voting rights, with only Commonwealth and Irish citizens living in Britain having a say in UK general elections, along with only a minority of British people living abroad.

"If our voting system is not changed, we will see vast numbers of British citizens, who left the UK to work or study, continuing to be completely disenfranchised from national elections and shut out of the democratic process. And many millions of people living in the UK, who have built lives in Britain, will continue to be shut out of the democratic process."

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