British expats who lost their legal challenge to vote in the Brexit referendum are continuing their fight with an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Their claim that a refusal to let the take part in the referendum was against European Union human rights law was thrown out by two judges in London’s High Court.
Around 700,000 British expats are caught by the ruling.
The case was brought by expats rights campaigner Harry Shindler, 94, from Italy, and lawyer Jacquelyn MacLennan, from Belgium.
Lawyers for the pair argued that an arbitrary ban that stops expats from voting in UK elections if they have lived away from the country for more than 15 years should be lifted in time for the referendum on June 23.
They explained the ban was due for scrapping during this Parliament anyway after Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to introduce the legislation as manifesto promise at the last general election.
Rights and obligations
“The government promised to allow every British expat the right to vote in elections regardless of how much time they have spent overseas,” said MacLennan.
“British citizenship comes with certain rights and obligations for the government and expats and we just want Britain to keep that promise to expats.”
She pointed out that in elections, expats are generally paired with the constituency they last lived in before leaving Britain, but for a referendum they only need to show they have a British passport.
“This makes putting together the electoral register much simpler and renders the argument about complications redundant.”
Resident alien fear
Expats fear they will become resident aliens in European Union countries if Britain votes to leave.
This could disrupt expats freedom of movement with EU nations that impact their right to live and work. Other issues such as pensions and healthcare entitlement might also be called into question.
The High Court review agreed with government arguments that registering thousands of expats to vote in time for the referendum was impractical.
The ruling leaves British expats living in the EU for 14 years 11 months and 29 days with the right to vote in the referendum, while those who fall foul of the 15-year rule by just one day unable to take part.