British expats have at long last won the right to vote in the next general election regardless of how long since they have left the country.
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Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed she will change the law in time for the expected 2020 poll.
Thousands of expats were stopped from voting in the Brexit referendum and the recent general election as current rules bar them from taking part if they have spent more than 15 years living outside the UK.
The Electoral Commission estimates that 5.5 million Brits live overseas but only had 106,000 on voting lists for the 2015 general election – the highest number ever recorded.
Call for expats to register to vote
Alex Robertson, director of communications at the Electoral Commission said: “A lot of people aren’t aware that it’s possible to register as an overseas voter for certain UK polls – UK Parliamentary General Elections, European Parliamentary elections. Many people are eligible to vote and now it’s easier than ever to take the first step by going online.”
The pledge to scrap the 15-year limit for expat voters led to a furore before the Brexit referendum.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron had promised to bring the measure in during this Parliament as part of his general election manifesto.
However he refused to pass the legislation before the Brexit vote leading to a legal challenge by expats that went to the Supreme Court, losing at every stage.
Even if most eligible expats had signed up to vote under the current rules, the likelihood was the referendum result would still have been to leave the European Union.
Personal pledge to campaigner
But if the hundreds of thousands ruled out of the vote by the 15-year rule had cast a preference, their numbers could have swayed the relatively narrow majority voting to leave.
One of the expats leading the law suit against the government was 93-year-old Second World War veteran Harry Schindler, who has lived in Italy for many years.
He argued the 15-year limit disenfranchised expats in Europe who were likely to be among the most affected by the leave vote.
Now, he has had a letter from Theresa May assuring him that the Tories will bring a bill to scrap the limit before Parliament in time for the next election expected in 2020.
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