"Votes for Life" was a Liberal Democrat 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.
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.
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: https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/c392b2a1-5fa7-40ac-b7f7-0eae3602830di
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.
The Election Act was passed in March 2022. Now secondary legislation is awaited. The Election Commission has informed the Lib Dems that they do not expect to start their intended overseas registration awareness campaign until July 2023, given that they will give priority to having everything in place for the May 2023 UK Council elections. The Lib Dems will be ready to participate in the Election Commission's campaign overseas when it comes!