In May the Court of Appeal rejected a challenge to the exclusion of expatriates that have lived outside of the UK for over 15 years from the EU referendum franchise. Turan Hursit discusses this judgment, which she suggests was an adamant declaration by the courts that the EU has no say in whether, and the way in which, the UK leaves the EU.
There are between 1.3 and two million Britons who currently live in other EU countries. The legal status of these individuals following a potential Brexit remains unclear, depending wholly on the outcome of two years of negotiations started by invocation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU ‘exit’ clause.
It is surprising, then, given the potential implications of any Brexit for expatriates, that the issue of expat voting rights has been almost entirely absent from the Brexit debate. Harry Shindler, a 94-year-old British war veteran and Jacquelyn MacLennan, a partner in a Brussels law firm, raised the issue when they brought a case, first in the High Court, then the Court of Appeal, contesting the existing restrictions on expat votes.
The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 currently provides that any UK citizen who takes up residence abroad can apply to be placed on the overseas electors’ list. This right ceases once an individual has been abroad for 15 years or more. The time limit has been controversial and the legal cut-off point has been changed three times from five years in 1985 to 20 years in 1989, and then again to 15 years in 2000. Last year’s Queen’s speech contained a promise to abolish the threshold altogether in a Votes for Life Bill, but this has yet to be introduced. In Shindler and MacLennan v Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the claimants sought to challenge the 15-year limit contained in the 2000 Act and their consequent exclusion from the EU referendum franchise.