A British citizen living in Italy has challenged the British government over his right to vote in the EU Referendum, denied to him because he has lived away from Britain for more than 15 years.

There are two million British citizens living in Europe who have no right to vote in any United Kingdom election, including the upcoming EU Referendum – thanks to a rule which denies this human right to those who have lived outside Britain for more than an arbitrary 15 years.

Now, a British man living in Italy has begun a legal challenge against this rule, and is now taking it to the High Court.

The EU Referendum, especially should the UK vote to leave, will affect almost half of Britons living in Europe – and there are thought to be around 800,000 currently living in Spain.

The Referendum

The EU Referendum, especially should the UK vote to leave, will affect almost half of Britons living in Europe – and there are thought to be around 800,000 currently living in Spain. The Conservative government promised to reverse the law restricting voting rights to those who left Britain before 2001 in their manifesto, but have not implemented this promise in time for the referendum in June which has angered long-term expats. The government claims there hasn’t been enough parliamentary time to debate the change in voting rights, or for the proposal to pass through the various stages that are required for it become law.

The challenge

Lawyers for Harry Shindler, aged 94 and living in Porto D’Ascoli in Italy, have lodged a challenge to the current law, arguing that the EU Referendum Act permits people to vote who cannot normally vote in British elections, such as citizens residing in Gibraltar or from the Commonwealth and even from northern Ireland, but not British citizens who have lived away from Britain for more than 15 years.

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Will justice prevail?

A partner of the Law firm Leigh Day, said “Our clients are being penalised for exercising their EU free movement rights. The people it arbitrarily excludes are those UK citizens who are among those most likely to be affected by the decision taken by voters in this referendum.”

He continued, “Not to allow them to vote on the decision whether the UK remains part of the EU is unlawful, and we have asked the court to deal with the issues urgently so that the act can be amended before the June date, to include all UK citizens residing in the EU for however long.”

Effect on Referendum

Should the court find in favour of the challenge, the implication on the Referendum will be enormous; in particular its preparation, as around two million extra people living all over Europe will have to be registered to vote before 23 June.

The EU Referendum Act permits people to vote who cannot normally vote in British elections, such as citizens residing in Gibraltar or from the Commonwealth and even from northern Ireland, but not British citizens who have lived away from Britain for more than 15 years.

The time frame is extremely short, and it is possible that the referendum may have to be postponed to a later date.

Campaigners in Spain

For some time there has been a strong campaign to get the law changed by Britons living in Spain. Concerns are that if Britain were to leave Europe, no one knows what will happen to expats resident there. It wouldn’t be a decision made by Britain as it would no longer be part of the EU. The effects might be far reaching, concerning medical cover, bank accounts, visas and the loss or rights to vote in Spanish local government elections.

All eyes therefore are on the High Court as we await their judgement.

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