This article has been posted by British in Europe on their website
As those of you who have been following our previous voting rights updates (including on the legislative timetable) will know, the UK government repealed the so-called 15-year rule in the Elections Act 2022. But that wasn’t enough to give us our voting rights back. Since April 2022 we have been waiting for secondary legislation to be laid that sets out the procedures for how we register and vote from abroad.
The Postal and Proxy Voting Regulations (also applicable for UK voters resident in the UK) were laid in July 2023 but we were still waiting for the statutory instrument (SI) on registration procedures. We are delighted to be able to tell you that the SI on overseas voting regulations was laid in both Houses of Parliament on 23 October 2023 and has been published.
What happens now?
This SI is subject to the draft affirmative procedure and will be considered by committees in the House of Commons and House of Lords. This process usually takes about six to eight weeks and we expect it to be finalised by early January 2024 at the latest. The SI should then come into force almost immediately and we expect voter registration for currently disenfranchised UK citizens overseas to be open by the end of January 2024 at the latest. This should mean that we can register in time for the next UK general election (which could be held anytime from early December 2023 but with 2 May and October/November 2024 looking the most likely dates).
There is generally very little scrutiny of SIs, even under the affirmative procedure, but British in Europe will be reaching out to the relevant committee members to ensure that they understand how important this legislation is for the UK diaspora and with suggestions for any amendments we would like to see included. We have been in contact with the relevant units in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for the last 12 months with recommendations on what needed to be included in the draft legislation and we are pleased to see that some of these recommendations have been included in the draft SI.
What can you do whilst we wait for the legislation to be adopted?
For the last year some of our work on voting rights has been funded by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust but that funding expires at the end of October 2023. Unfortunately, our application for more funding last month was unsuccessful, due to the huge demand for funding in the UK and despite appreciation for our work.
We will now be relying on donations to get our voting rights over the line and to spread the word amongst the global UK diaspora. If you would like to support this work you can donate here
If you can still vote from abroad
There will be hundreds of thousands of currently disenfranchised voters who can only register once the SI is adopted and registration opens in January 2024. Therefore, if you can still vote from abroad and have less than six months left before you have to renew your annual voter registration please renew your registration before Christmas.
If you are currently disenfranchised from voting in the UK
Start collecting proof of your identity (e.g. national insurance numbers, copies of current or expired UK passports, etc.) as well as evidence of your last place of residence and/or proof that you were previously on the electoral roll in the UK. Scan them and save them ready for uploading to the online registration system when it opens. We will provide more information about the documents that will be accepted and what you can do if you don’t have any of them in a further blog post in the near future.