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Why Brits in France must fight for right to vote

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British expats who have spent years in France lose their right to have a say in who sits in the Houses of Parliament. Photo: Hagwall/Flickr
13:31 CEST+02:00
Thousands of foreigners living in France including Brits and Irish are barred from voting back home. In the second part of our series on voting rights for expats, The Local hears from one 'excluded' Briton who is urging others to fight for a fundamental right.

Tens of thousands of expats living in France and around the world are unable to perform a fundamental right – vote in the national elections in the country where they were born.

Unlike French expats who hold on to their right to vote no matter where they live, Brits and Irish nationals lose it if they stay abroad for a certain amount of time.

One of those who has seen his fundamental right disappear is Brian Cave, who lives in Gourdon, a town in the Lot, south-western France. Cave can no longer vote in UK national elections because he fell foul of the British rule that takes away voting rights from its citizens if they have been abroad for 15 years or more.

In Ireland the law is even more severe, with voters having to forgo their right to cast a ballot if they intend to stay away for 18 months.

Cave has been one of the leaders of the battle to get the UK to drop its controversial 15-year rule. Here, he tells The Local why, even after having lived in France for so many years, he deserves the right to vote back home.

"I am taxed by the British government on my teacher’s pension, which by law can only be taxed in the UK. All my investments are based over there too. I am not a rich man, I am getting on towards 82, but I have savings through the British system and an investment with a British investment house. These investments are very much dependent on the British government’s policy towards investment banks.

'I am tied up with Britain but have no say in it'

"My state pension also comes from Britain, in fact every income I receive comes from the UK, which is why I should have the vote."

Cave, who is the author of the blog Pensioners Debout! (Stand Up Pensioners!) says his desire to retain the vote in the UK is not just motivated by financial reasons.

“I also have two children in Britain and grandchildren in British schools. The British government through the EU supports my health care in France. So I am affected by any treaty arrangements between the EU, France and the UK. 

“Culturally I am British. I am very interested in how Britain acts in the world and who it decides to go to war with. I am tied up with Britain in every way and therefore should have the right to vote. The British government acts in my name but I don’t have a say in who it is."

The campaigner is angered at Britain's stance that if you leave and don't come back then don't expect to hold on to you rights.

"The government is not interested in me and my life," he says. "There is an attitude that once you have left the ship, you lose the right to a say in what happens to it.

“A member of the House of Lords once said to me: ‘What have you got to do with Britain, you are no longer part of the economy.’ I said: 'I bloody well am!'.”

Not just elections but referendums

It is not just general elections that thousands of Brits in France will be barred from taking part in. One of the key votes that could really impinge on their lives is a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, which Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold if his Tory party wins the 2015 general election.

“If there’s a referendum about Britain’s membership of the EU, then I won’t be able to vote.  So many of our expats are laid back, they just don’t care about it. Only last week I was talking to people who say it won’t happen, but of course it could happen. We can’t just sit back and say it will all be OK. If we came out of the EU it would be a disaster. The British government could freeze pensions. We might need to get work permits just to work in France one day.  

“We have to try to wake up the expats in France to this issue. There are 60,000 British pensioners living here, but a petition calling for us to get the vote has only garnered 3,000 signatures. It’s not just pensioners either, there are thousands of people in France who will soon be disenfranchised."

Cave and fellow campaigners for the vote are also calling on the UK to adopt the French system whereby expats living outside France are represented by their own MPs.

“That’s what we eventually want,” says Cave, “but let's take it one step at a time.”

Story continues below…

It is not just Brits of course who are left disenfranchised. Noreen Bowden has been leading the campaign for Ireland to change its laws on barring expats from voting. She is equally angry at being denied a fundamental right.

"It is particularly ironic, and even sad, that Ireland, which tends to rely so heavily on its citizens abroad for support during times of economic distress, should take the hardest line in Europe on votes for its emigrants," she told The Local. 

"Compare it to a nation like France, which takes the voices of its overseas citizens seriously by enabling them not only to vote but also to elect their own MP."

Earlier this month, The Local highlighted the campaign to give EU expats the right to vote in their country of residence. It's a fight that Cave is also backing.

“If any government involves themselves in your life whether it’s socially, culturally or financially, then you should be able to have a say in who exactly is governing you," he says.

Wake up: Are you a British expat who wants to keep your right to vote? Then sign this online petition.

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