The Impact of Brexit on the Issue of Voting Rights for British Citizens Resident Abroad

Susan Collard

The controversial issue of voting rights for British citizens resident abroad was given new salience by the EU referendum, in which all those living outside the UK for more than 15 years were disenfranchised, despite the huge potential impact on their lives, especially those in other EU Member States. The resentment and anxieties engendered by the Brexit vote instigated an unprecedented wave of activism amongst groups of expatriates making legal claims and voicing their concerns through social and public media. But a second battle front will soon open up for them in the context of the government's recent pledge to abandon the '15 year rule' in favour of 'Votes For Life' during the current parliament. The proposed bill is of particular significance, given the possibility of a second EU referendum or early election. Yet the real issues at stake n the bill are likely to be eclipsed by entrenched partisan positions that have driven all previous parliamentary debates, underpinned by widely held assumptions of a bias amongst 'ex-pats' towards the Conservative Party. These assumptions are based on outdated perceptions and cultural stereotypes, which need to be challenged by more recent evidence-based research, in order to better inform the forthcoming discussions. To this end, my paper will disseminate the results of two on-line surveys conducted amongst British citizens living abroad in the wake of the EU referendum, which will bring to the debate their previously unheard voices and experiences as 'overseas' citizens engaging with homeland politics, and which will offer a more accurate and up to date sociological profile of the British expatriate population.

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