The prospect of EU nationals being able to vote in UK elections has increased after the opposition Labour party adopted new policy to guarantee EU and third-country nationals voting rights in all elections.
The motion, adopted unanimously by Labour party delegates at their annual conference in Brighton on Wednesday (25 September), also commits the party to ‘maintain and extend free movement rights’.
That effectively reverses Labour’s manifesto released ahead of the 2017 general election to end freedom of movement after the UK left the European Union. The motion also called on the party to “dismantle the hostile environment” for migrants in the UK, if it wins the next election.
“In 2017, it was a source of shame for many activists that our manifesto included ending free movement. Now we can move forward not only committed to defending free movement, but to giving migrants to vote,” said Ana Oppenheim, from the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.
“If we win, the next election will be the last election in which people like me are shut out of the democratic process.”
A general election in the UK is widely expected to take place before the end of this year, as a result of the continued impasse between Boris Johnson’s government and MPs on Brexit.
Full voting rights are currently limited to citizens of the UK, Ireland and Commonwealth countries. By law, EU citizens currently have the right to take part in local elections as well as European elections, but campaigners are concerned that after Brexit, the Conservative-led government might move to restrict the local government franchise to British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens, in line with the rules for general elections.
The first test will be the London mayoral and assembly elections in May 2020, for which EU nationals currently have voting rights.
In August, the civil rights group New Europeans wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make clear that there are no circumstances in which he would axe the voting rights of EU citizens in the UK.
In the absence of such an unequivocal statement, the campaign group fears many EU27 citizens may fail to take part in the annual electoral canvas.
“A government that has denied the right to vote to over one million EU27 citizens and Britons abroad in the May 2019 European elections is more than capable of disenfranchising them from local elections if the UK leaves the EU,” Roger Casale, former Labour MP and founder of New Europeans, told EURACTIV.
“EU citizens need certainty about their rights and status post Brexit. Assuring EU citizens they will be able to continue to participate in local and regional elections in the UK is an essential part of making sure they feel included,” he added.
The campaign group is calling for a commitment to the voting rights of EU citizens to be included in the manifestos of all the parties fighting the next General Election.
The voting rights of Britons abroad post-Brexit also remain uncertain, although the governing Conservatives have pledged to overturn the 15-year rule which prevents UK citizens who are long term residents overseas from voting in general elections.
The 15-year rule is still in place, and in the European elections this year, many British voters were abroad were excluded.
New Europeans estimates that more than one million EU citizens and Britons abroad were denied the vote in the European elections in the UK for administrative reasons and are calling for a public inquiry and an investigation by the European Parliament.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]