The Overseas Electors Bill for 1 Million Locked Out British Expats – Sabotaged by ERG

3rd May 2019 / United Kingdom
The Overseas Electors Bill for 1 Million Locked Out British Expats - Sabotaged by ERG

There are an estimated 5.5 million Briton’s living abroad. It is only estimated because the government does not track British expats – that is left to a department that uses a survey to find out, not border control statistics or data from HMRC.

We do know that about 800,000 British expats live in the EU. Spain, France, and Germany are the most popular destinations excluding Ireland, the third most popular EU country for British expats.

Contrary to popular belief, 74% of expats are under 65 years old, with an average age of the total number (including retirees) at 53 years.

Australia has the most number of Brit expats with nearly 1.3 million, followed by America 800,000, Canada with nearly 700,000, New Zealand at 315,000, South Africa 305,000 and Ireland 255,000.

After 15 years of living away from the UK – British expats voting rights are withdrawn. I can’t fathom out why though.

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One million British voters were denied a vote at the EU referendum and subsequent snap election because they have lived away from the UK for more than 15 years. Thousands more, myself included who still had that right were denied because voting documents arrived after the EU referendum in 2016.

It’s nearly three years since that momentous referendum. The UK’s Conservative government had promised for years to abolish the 15-year rule but failed to do so before and so had another go.

A group of expats in Spain brought went to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg, who ruled against the case that challenged this law because there are no expatriates who are personally affected by the negotiations for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU – for now.

 

To change this 15-year rule, a Private Member’s Bill (PMB) with government support passed last March – but a Conservative MP used a deliberate tactic to ensure it went nowhere – that of talking it out, known otherwise as filibustering.

This incident reveals the shortcomings of parliamentary democracy when just one person can lock out a million voters. These voters were assured by the Conservative’s that they would get their voting rights back – a much more important issue now given the possibility of a people’s vote or a second referendum. There’s always the possibility of another snap-election or indeed just a usual cyclical election. Next time, Brexit will obviously feature heavily in any vote to decide the future of Britain.

The 22nd March was the date of the Overseas Electors Bill 2017–19, a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by the Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, Glyn Davies, and fully backed, or so it seemed, by the government as a Handout Bill. The Bill’s aims were to give ‘Votes For Life’ by abolishing the existing ‘15-year rule.’ Leaving aside the fact that it easily passed through the various stages such as second readings and committee stages – what happened next was a demonstration of just how completely the loss of control by Theresa May’s government has been.

Conservative MP for Shipley, Philip Davies, notably a member of Jacob rees-Mogg’s European Research Group (ERG) and ardent Brexiteer ambushed the Bill.

As Susan Collard, a senior lecturer in Contemporary European Studies in the Department of Politics, University of Sussex, wrote:

“In what was clearly an act of collaboration with Labour against the government: Davies more or less copied and pasted a whole raft of new clauses and amendments tabled by the opposition during the Committee Stage (none of which had been successful) that he referred to as ‘Matheson’s greatest hits’ (Christian Matheson was leading the proceedings for Labour), adding a few more of his own to boot. Several amendments were tabled jointly by Matheson and Davies.

With his well-established talent for talking endlessly without much substance, only ‘giving way’ to pre-arranged interventions from other MPs in order to prolong a semblance of discussion, Davies ended his speech just 10 minutes before the Speaker called time at 2.30pm. This left only a few minutes for Labour’s Matheson and the sponsors of the Bill, Glyn Davies and the constitution minister Chloe Smith, to make a few concluding statements.”

 

And what was it that this Conservative MP feared the most by blocking any attempt for a million British expats to vote. Perhaps it was nothing more than the threat that an extended expat vote might just swing the result against Brexit in the event of a second referendum? This is a blatant act of democracy blocking by the Conservative’s.

It should also be noted that Labour was in fact planning on doing the exactly the same by blocking the Bill but ended up supporting Davies – demonstrating once again, that far from acting in the national interest, the Labour party are acting only in their own interests.

The other point about this shameful act by members of the ERG and ultimately the Conservative party is made succinctly again by Collard:

 

“A system that allows such wasting of parliamentary time by filibustering, funded by taxpayers, and watched with incredulity and incomprehension from the public gallery, surely has no place in a country which considers itself to be a model of democracy.”

 

It should also be of note that this event is just one of many since the referendum, that shows the deepest of divisions within the Tory party – it also shows that one of its own would wreck an important Bill supported by its own government purely for fanatical reasons. That says only that the government has no control at all over anything, not even its own MP’s.

The Overseas Electors Bill is now dead as a Dodo and unlikely to be proposed again as it will simply be wasting parliamentary time by being sabotaged again.

 

 

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