Our electoral system must be overhauled to give EU citizens a proper voice

PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 July 2019

A voter carries his passport along with his poll card to a polling station. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA.

A voter carries his passport along with his poll card to a polling station. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA.

PA Archive/PA Images

National Democracy Week is a chance to celebrate our democratic rights but, as Lib Dem MP TOM BRAKE warns, it also should serve as a reminder that the system is still failing millions of people.

Today marks the start of National Democracy Week. This year the week is particularly pertinent given the disenfranchisement of EU citizens during the EU Elections. Thousands of those who have the legal right to vote in those elections were turned away at polling stations. This was not the act of a functioning democracy.

The UK has long been viewed as a beacon of democracy and last year we celebrated a major milestone in the development of our democratic rights: 100 years since some women were given the vote. Increasingly, however, that image is being eroded. The scandal of EU citizens living in the UK being denied their vote, with some told to 'vote in your own country', is just the latest evidence that our electoral system is in urgent need of reform.

Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for electoral reform. We believe it is beyond time to make our democracy properly democratic and ensure that everyone's views are represented. That is why we have fought for proportional representation for so many years. The current system of first past the post leaves many feeling as though their vote doesn't matter and apathetic about politics more broadly. No matter who they vote for, the same Tory or Labour MP will keep their seat as they have done for years. This has to change, and we will keep campaigning to ensure it does.

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In the three years since the 2016 referendum it has become increasingly clear that other elements of reform are also needed. Those whose lives were most affected by the referendum outcome were denied a vote. Young people and EU citizens have had to watch as others voted to deny them their rights. Their right to live, love, and work wherever they want in the EU was taken from them in a vote in which they had no say. In the General Election that followed, they were similarly denied a voice. This unjust situation has made it all the more obvious that it is time to give young people and EU citizens the right to vote in all UK referendums and elections.

As things stand, EU citizens can take part in local and European elections. It is unjustifiable that they are denied that same right in other elections. On top of this disenfranchisement, this year's EU Election scandal demonstrated that the Conservative government have no interest in enfranchising EU citizens. The Conservatives' failure to implement the Electoral Commission's 2014 reform suggestions, and further failure to ensure Councils wrote to EU citizens about their vote, goes to show that the system is broken. It is time for a major overhaul.

National Democracy Week is a chance to celebrate our democratic rights, and we should, but it is also a stark reminder that our democracy is still failing millions of people. Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for electoral reform, we will continue to fight for votes at 16, for overseas constituencies, and for the right to vote to be extended to EU citizens. No functioning democracy should fear giving more people the vote. It is time to make our democracy fit for the 21st century.

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