UK opens voter registration for Brits in Europe as 15-year rule finally ends

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UK opens voter registration for Brits in Europe as 15-year rule finally ends
Make your voice heard - Brits living outside the UK can register now to vote in the next general election. Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP

The UK has changed its rules on overseas voting, meaning that thousands of Brits living in Europe will be eligible to vote in the next general election - and voter registration opens on Tuesday.


Since 2002 the UK operated the '15-year rule', meaning that people who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years can no longer vote in UK elections.

It was this rule that barred tens of thousands of Brits living in Europe from voting in the Brexit referendum - even though its outcome had the potential to up-end their lives.

Now, however, after many false starts and delays, this rule has finally been overturned, meaning that an estimated three million Brits living outside the UK can re-register to vote - and registration opens on Tuesday, January 16th. 


No date has been announced for the next general election, although it must be held before January 28th 2025 - most political watchers think it will either be in May or November 2024. 

The new rule does have some caveats - UK citizens who have never lived in the UK cannot vote, and the overseas voting applies only to general elections (and possibly any forthcoming referendums) - local elections are not covered and there are different rules for the Stormont, Senedd and Holyrood elections, in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

You register your vote in the constituency you were last registered to vote in, or where you last lived if you were not previously registered to vote.

There is an online portal to register - and you can find full details of how to register and what documents you need at this link.

If you're not sure if you are eligible, the campaign group British in Europe has a helpful Q&A here.

Jane Golding Co-chair of campaign group, British in Europe said: "Voting is a basic citizenship right regardless of where someone lives. This is a historic change to the UK franchise after years of campaigning by ourselves and others, particularly long-term campaigner Harry Shindler, who sadly died before he could use his hard-won vote."

Once registered, you can either opt for a postal vote or ask for a proxy vote.

There have been problems in the past with postal votes not arriving at overseas addresses in time. The British government has pledged to prioritise the sending of overseas ballots, but that concern remains valid.

You may prefer to opt for the proxy option, in which you authorise a UK-based voter to exercise your right to vote on your behalf. Your proxy does not have to live in the same constituency, as they can ask for a postal vote on your behalf.

UK-based voters may only act as proxies for four people living overseas.


If you have lived out of the UK for less than 15 years and are already registered as an overseas voter, you may still need to re-register, especially if you are registered as a proxy voter as the changes to overseas voting rules means that proxy voters must complete a new declaration.

This can also be done online.



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