The European Parliament is to hold a hearing on citizens who have lost their right to vote in UK elections after living abroad for 15 years.
Under the UK government’s “15-year rule” millions of British citizens lose their right after living in another EU nation for more than 15 years.
Next week the European Parliament’s petitions committee will hold a hearing on the topic.
Numerous EU reports have highlighted the disenfranchisement as being “at odds with the founding premise of EU citizenship” with the European Commission’s own 2013 EU Citizenship report saying “full participation of EU citizens in the democratic life of the EU at all levels is the very essence of Union citizenship’.
The Commission has been reluctant to take any action, though, because the make-up of national elections is for member states to decide.
Although the issue pre-dates Brexit, campaigners claim the referendum result has highlighted the problem. One of the legal justifications of the ’15-year rule’ made by the British government is that UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU were “less affected by laws adopted in the legislative procedures of the UK’.
Campaigners say the EU referendum threw this logic into doubt as UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU were the group most directly impacted by the result, yet were unable to vote in it.
As campaigners in the UK call for a “People’s Vote” on the final Brexit deal, citizens’ rights activists are calling for the inclusion of UK nationals living or working elsewhere in the EU on the electoral roll.
Jude Kirton-Darling, Labour MEP for the North-East of England and member of the European Parliament’s petitions committee, said the right to vote went “to the very heart of both our British and European values”.
She said: “We are in danger of inadvertently disenfranchising millions of citizens as a result of Brexit, which is an affront to basic international civil and political rights and deeply undemocratic.
“This hearing is an opportunity to put more pressure on the UK government to change this outdated law and allow British citizens their most basic of rights – the right to vote.
‘We live in a world where the movement of people and information is becoming more global by the day.”
The argument that someone who had lived outside of the UK for 15 years was no longer affected by UK elections “no longer holds water”, Ms Kirton-Darling said.
“This rule may have been implemented under a Labour government but I believe it is now redundant and we should be doing everything we can to overturn it.’
UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU could also lose the voting rights they already enjoy following Brexit.
Under current European law, UK citizens are able to vote in local and EU elections where they currently live, but depending on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations this could change as UK nationals will no longer be classed as EU citizens.
Many UK nationals are unable to vote in national elections where they currently live but could also lose the right to vote in a UK election, leaving them without any democratic representation at all.
The draft withdrawal agreement is currently silent on the question of political rights for UK nationals in the rest of the EU and nationals from other EU countries in the UK.
The hearing will take place on April 24 at the European Parliament in Brussels.