Votes for Life - Lib Dems Abroad Background

House of Lords Meeting
Lord Jeremy Purvis and Lady Lindsay Northover with former Lib Dems Overseas Chair George Cunningham, 2021
Proceedings on Parliament TV

Votes For Life

Changes to who can vote from overseas - anticipated introduction January 2024

'Votes for Life' a Lib Dem manifesto commitment for both the 2017 and 2019 General Elections

  • This pledge was fleshed out in more detail in the 2019 policy paper produced by Lib Dems In Europe and Lib Dems Overseas specifically for British living abroad.


History of voting from overseas

  • Before 1985, UK citizens living abroad were not able to vote. The law was then changed allowing them to do so, but only in their first 5 years overseas. This was extended to 20 years in 1989 and reduced to 15 years in 2002. Lib Dems Overseas have strongly campaigned to have the right to vote restored for life to all UK citizens living abroad.
  • Brits living overseas are composed of citizens from all walks of life. In many ways, they are representative of those who live in the UK – ordinary families with children, pensioners, students, professionals. Many continue to pay taxes to the UK Government, not least on their pensions. There was no reason why they should be treated any differently to those who continue to live in the UK.


Changing the Election Law and Lib Dem involvement

  • In April 2021 Ms Chloe Smith, former UK Minister of State for the Constitution and Devolution, consulted Lib Dems Abroad alongside the two other main national UK parties about the proposed changes to the Elections Law to give the vote back to all Brits living abroad. Lib Dems were firmly in favour of the overseas changes proposed in the Election Law - and wanting to go further.
  • On 16 September 2021, Lib Dems Overseas Chair George Cunningham gave evidence at the House of Commons on the Elections Bill supporting the abolition of the 15 year rule and highlighting the importance of unfreezing pensions for British citizens abroad. You can watch the video here:
  • Lib Dems Abroad then made a written submission with suggestions for improving the bill which was followed up by two amendments to the bill submitted by Lib Dem Lords Rennard and Wallace in the House of Lords: to speed up the process by introducing electronic ballot transmission and to conduct a feasibility study on establishing overseas constituencies.
  • The government continued to insist that ballots be sent out and returned by post. Electronic transmission of ballots to the voter as a minimum either by downloading or emailed would substantially increase the chances of overseas voters getting their ballots back in time for the count but this had been rejected despite several approaches by the Lib Dems to the government. This is a serious flaw in the bill, in effect disenfranchising many, especially those who live the furthest away. There is a great deal of suspicion why the government is insisting that everything is done by "snail mail", thereby invalidating the many ballots from the UK that will not reach the polling station in the UK to be counted in time.


Secondary legislation and making the changes a reality

  • The Election Act was passed in March 2022. Now secondary legislation is awaited. In June 2023 Lib Dems Abroad attended a ministerial roundtable with Baroness Scott of Bybrook and the representatives from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) Elections Directorate.  This session was structured so we could react to the details being proposed by DLUHC for secondary legislation to enact the 2022 Elections Act enabling all UK overseas voters to be eligible to vote (by the abolition of the "15 year rule").
  • January 2024 is the expected date for all those away more than 15 years from the UK to be able to register to vote (& set up a proxy or postal vote) online. Registration will be valid for 3 years.
  • There will be additional steps for ID and historical UK address verification and acknowledging this may be simpler for some people than others, there will be a range of options to prove your ID and UK address (voting location). Details will become publicly available when the secondary legislation is published