Thank you to all who lobbied the House of Lords before the October 13th debate on the EU Referendum Bill. The issue of voting rights for EU citizens and UK expats is still firmly on the agenda thanks to your work and the work of New Europeans.
It was debated in the House of Lords (see extracts from House of Lords briefing HERE)
This marks an important further step in our campaign to have the issue of the franchise for the referendum scrutinised.
Samia Badani, our Director of Campaigns said:
"Through our work we have identified a number of issues with the current proposals and a lack of foundation to the arguments for why the new franchise was being framed in this way.
In a democratic society people's rights shouldn't simply be based on perceptions about their voting intentions.
Without a fair franchise, we cannot have a fair referendum."
Here are the key points to note from the debate (our comments in italics)....
EU citizens' voting rights
On the question of EU citizens voting rights there was clear recognition that this is a live issue and that further debate will follow during the passage of the Bill through parliament.
Baroness Anelay, (Conservative minister) acknowledged the contribution of EU Citiznes in the UK but said that EU citizens could not be given the franchise because the British public would view this as a "crude attempt to fix the result"
The question of who should have the franchise should not be determined by speculation about which way people will vote - most democrats would view this as crude and certainly very unfair.
Baroness Smith (Liberal Democrat) asks the government to reflect on the question of whether EU citizens should have the franchise.
This stopped short of demanding the franchise for EU citizens which we believe is the official Liberal Democrat position.
STOP PRESS: Lord Wallace of Saltaire announced online in LibDemVoice during the debate that the Lib Dems will table an amendment to allow EU citizens to have the vote, following intense lobbying by EU citizens such as Lucie Hinton and Nishan Dzhingozyan who have been writing to MPs and Peers as well as David Cameron.
Baroness Morgan (Labour) states that EU citizens have contributed and will be affected by the outcome of the Referendum but did not raise the franchise issue.
This avoids the question of the franchise altogether - we believe Labour are reconsidering their stance not the issue of voting rights for EU citizens following Jeremy Corbyn's election as leader.
UK expats voting rights
On the question of voting rights for UK expats the government is to bring forward a separate bill in due course.
It remains to be seen when this Bill be brought forward but the issue has been decoupled from the EU referendum Bill by the government so it is now solely a question of timing for the new promised bill.
There are some exquisite ironies emerging from this debate.
For example,it looks as if Members of the House of Lords who have lived in France all their lives will be able to vote in the referendum but other UK expats who have lived in France or elsewhere for longer than 15 years will not (as things stand).
EU citizens will have their contribution to the UK recognised but not given the vote in the referendum (as things stand).
So like children in Victorian times, EU citizens in Britain are supposed to be seen but not heard.
New Europeans acts as a platform for EU citizens in the UK and British expats in Europe to make sure our voices are heard.
We will be consulting widely in order to understand who is calling for the vote, how people's lives may be affected if they don't have the vote, how those lives might be affected were the UK to leave the EU and what people in Britain really think about who should have have the vote in the referendum and who should be left out.
We will be working with UK expat organisations to insist that the government brings forward legislation before the referendum to scrap the 15 year rule.
We will be briefing you further about our campaign activities and will need lots of help.
Watch out for the next announcement to find out how best you can support this campaign.
What the parties said in Oct 13th Debate
Conservative Government Minister
Introducing the Second Reading Debate on the EU Referendum Bill in the House of Lords
"I have also heard calls to extend the franchise to EU citizens resident in the UK. The Government recognise the strength of that feeling. Many EU citizens have made the UK their home and have made significant contributions to life in this country. No one would wish to deny that. However, this is a vote about the future of the United Kingdom in Europe so it is right that we use the Westminster franchise as the basis.
Using a franchise that does not include other EU nationals is entirely consistent with the practice in other EU member states and with the EU treaties themselves. I suspect that many of the British public would view the inclusion of EU citizens as a crude attempt to fix the result.
In addition, many noble Lords will be aware of the Government’s manifesto commitment to extend the franchise to British citizens resident overseas for more than 15 years. The Government will bring forward a Bill separately to amend the Westminster franchise to enable this, on which noble Lords will be able to engage in due course."
Lords Hansard, 13 October 2015
Liberal Democrat Spokesperson
"In addition to 16 and 17 year-olds, many residents of the United Kingdom are disfranchised. These are EU nationals, who exercise their rights under the EU treaty to live and work in the United Kingdom and who thought they would be here as EU citizens. Surely they have at least as much interest in this referendum as Commonwealth citizens who happen to be resident in the United Kingdom.
Therefore, I would like the Government to reflect on the extent of the franchise and votes for EU nationals, who contribute so much to the United Kingdom.
The Minister pointed out that another pledge in the Conservative manifesto of 2015 was to extend the franchise to Brits who have lived abroad for more than 15 years.
In many cases that includes British nationals who are resident in Brussels and work in the EU institutions precisely because the United Kingdom is part of the European Union.
I believe it also includes some Members of your Lordships’ House who are resident in France or in other countries. They will be enfranchised through the provision that Peers who are resident in France will be able to vote, but other British nationals who have been abroad for more than 15 years would not currently have the franchise. Yet surely they are exercising their rights under the EU treaty.
Do they not have a right to have a say? It is not simply British nationals resident in the United Kingdom who have a profound stake in this referendum; it is also British nationals resident in other EU countries, who are benefiting from the current legislation to which we, the United Kingdom, signed up.
Therefore, I ask the Minister to look again at the franchise and also to help us, as Members of your Lordships’ House, and the citizens of the United Kingdom and our partners and allies in the European Union, to understand what the British Government want and what the question really means."
Lords Hansard, 13 October 2015
Responding to the debate for the Official Opposition
"What about the rights of EU citizens living in the UK? Would they be affected if we left the EU? Would they be allowed to stay? For how long? Would we just stop any more EU citizens entering? Would EU citizens need visas in future?
What about the rights of UK citizens living in another EU country? We believe that there may be as many as 2 million of these.
Would they be expected to come home? Would they need to uproot themselves from their new lives? Would they have the right to stay and use continental hospitals? Could they continue to have their pensions transferred abroad?"
Lords Hansard, 13 October 2015
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