There are 2.2 million people working in the UK who are citizens of other EU member states. They have the right to vote in local elections but not General Elections. Most of them are natural Conservatives – often their reason for being here is to escape the high tax rates in such countries as France and Italy. They certainly tend to be hard-working.
They were not allowed to vote in the EU referendum and some are predicting that they will take the chance to exact revenge on the Conservatives in the local elections on May 3rd. No doubt some will. However others accept that whatever their view of Brexit, it is an irrelevance to those elections.
Also much of the initial indignation was based on a genuine fear that they would not be allowed to stay. In December it was made very clear they would be. The Home Office states:
“Those who have already had five years of continuous residence in the UK will be eligible to apply for settled status. Others will be able to remain in the UK to build-up five years’ continuous residence.”
What about their all important right to vote in future local elections?
The same Home Office briefing says:
“The EU Commission said it did not have the right to agree voting rights on behalf of EU Member States. It is our view that voting in local elections helps EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU contribute to and feel a part of the local communities in which they live. That is why we will explore bilateral arrangements on voting rights with Member States that do not already provide for this in their national law.”
It could all end up being rather untidy. Removing any existing rights for EU nationals would send out a negative message. So I would be surprised if anyone lost their right to vote. What about new arrivals from the EU after Brexit? In future elections when canvassing will we be asking Spaniards on the doorstep if they arrived before or after March 29th 2019? That would be rather muddled. On the other hand where would be the justice in a discriminatory policy. Why should a Swede be able to vote in the council elections but not a Norwegian?
For that matter, does the preferential treatment for those from the Commonwealth really much much sense? Why do the Canadians in Ravenscourt Park Ward have the chance to vote for me but those from the United States have this opportunity denied?
Consider a Peruvian woman married to a British citizen. She lives with her family in London. Her husband is British, her children have British citizenship and attend local schools. She has lived here for 20 years and has long since had permanent residence status – which you can obtain after five years. The family are hard working, law abiding, home owning, church going Council Taxpayers. She is the coordinator for the local Neighbourhood Watch. Of course she could apply for and be granted British citizenship but she has a sentimental streak and can’t quite break her allegiance to her old country. Certainly she should be denied a vote in a General Election here. But in a local election? That seems unreasonable.
The only outcome that would be both practical and fair would be to allow all those with the status of permanent residents, the right to vote for local elections – including for the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.
What about the principle of “no taxation without representation”? Shouldn’t Council Taxpayers wherever they are from, have a say in who spends their money?
Of course the statute book is groaning under the weight of contradictory laws thrown up by accidents of history. I’m told that trying to sort out these anomalies could be problematic for Government without an overall majority. It would mean amending the Representation of the People Act which could then allow an array of other changes to be proposed on different aspects of the voting system.
But widening the franchise in this way would not only be logical and just but it would send out the right message. It would symbolise that Brexit is not a narrow minded, mean spirited, inward looking process. Instead it is about us being a confident, outward-looking nation welcoming those with a contribution to make, wherever they come from on the planet.