Liberal Democrats in Europe have strongly welcomed a move by the European Commission to defend voting rights for British citizens living in other EU countries.
Current rules mean Brits are denied the right to vote in general elections after 15 years spent abroad - whether in the EU or elsewhere. Between 1.4 and 2 million British citizens currently live in another EU country and risk losing their right to vote in the long term.
But the European Commission has today called on the government to enable British expats in the EU to remain on the electoral roll if they can demonstrate they still have an interest in political life in the UK, on the grounds that they are simply exercising their EU right to free movement.
The recommendation - which is not legally binding - is addressed to five EU countries which currently disenfranchise their citizens after a certain period spent abroad.
Giles Goodall, Chair of Brussels & Europe Liberal Democrats, which has members in 21 EU countries and has long campaigned on the issue of overseas voting rights, said:
"This is a lifeline for the million plus Brits living in other EU countries who have either already lost their vote, or face losing it in the future. It's especially welcome news with an EU referendum looming, which could potentially result in British citizens losing their rights as EU citizens to live and work in other EU countries.
"The 15-year rule is simply no longer justifiable in this day and age, when British EU migrants in France, Spain or Poland can stay in touch with politics in the UK just as easily as someone at home. They should not be denied the option of registering to vote just because they've made use of their right to free movement as EU citizens."
Five EU countries currently limit their citizens' voting rights when residing outside the country: Cyprus, Denmark, Ireland, Malta and the UK. However, most EU countries allow their citizens to maintain their vote overseas or to periodically renew their registration.
The Commission is inviting the five countries concerned to give their nationals the option of applying to remain on the electoral roll if they wish to, rather than automatically denying them the vote in national elections.
EU citizens automatically have the right to vote in European and local elections in their EU country of residence, but have no such corresponding right in national elections. Voting rights in national elections are a national responsibility, which is why the EU cannot legislate on the issue.