The new announcement was made in the fine print of the UK government’s Budget that was presented this week.
Paragraph 2.41 of the Treasury Red Book, which sets out the government’s planned spending in detail, says: “Overseas Electors – the government is providing an additional £2.5m to remove the limit preventing British citizens who live overseas from voting after 15 years.”
Those affected will be allowed to vote in the constituencies where they lived before leaving the country, as eligible voters do currently.
Since 2002 British citizens living abroad for more than 15 years have been barred from voting in UK elections. That ban even included the 2016 Brexit referendum, despite the fact the outcome of the vote directly impacted the lives of UK citizens living in the EU.
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In recent years Conservative governments have at various times announced moves to end the so-called 15-year rule but the ban remains in place.
The government has told UK media that new legislation will be put to parliament later this year so the reform can be pushed through.
The British in Europe campaign group said: “We have heard this several times before but it would be very welcome if it was finally scrapped.”
However there the announcement was met with a certain amount of understandable scepticism from Britons living abroad, after numerous false promises in recent years.
“Believe it when I’m at Embassy casting a vote,” tweeted John Mills a Briton living in Stockholm.
Believe it when I'm at Embassy casting a vote..
— John Mills 💙 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 🇸🇪 (@JohnFMills) March 4, 2021
While others understandably lamented the fact they could not vote in the 2016 referendum.
“The most important vote for us was the 2016 referendum. Those of us in this category were not allowed to vote. The outcome has had a huge impact on @BritishInEurope It’s a bit late now,” tweeted Nicola, a Briton living in Brussels.
The campaign to end the 15-year rule has been led by Harry Shindler a 99-year-old WWII veteran who settled in Italy around 40 years ago.
Reacting to the news he tweeted: “It’s very good news that the UK’s 15 year voting rule is ending as part of #Budget2021. We fought to defend our right to vote in WW2 and now we will get to use it. This is an important day for freedom.”
Sue Wilson from Bremain in Spain added: “Naturally, there is still much cynicism about the government’s intentions – after all, we’ve been here before and been disappointed when manifesto promises were broken – but there’s definitely more positivity in the air this time around. Let’s hope his optimism is well placed and that Harry Shindler sees his long-lost voting rights returned in time for his forthcoming 100th birthday. I can’t think of a better birthday present.”