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As reported on the BiE website and our social media, we secured funding in November 2022 from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust for a 12-month secondary legislation advocacy project in relation to overseas provisions of the Elections Act passed by the UK Parliament in April 2022. While the primary legislation, the Elections Act 2022, is in place to remove the 15-year rule and give us lifelong votes, it still has to be implemented to take effect and work in practice. Our aim is to ensure the timely and effective implementation so that overseas voters can reclaim their vote in time for the next election - and critically, so that they can use it effectively when they do, given the myriad problems faced by overseas voters in the past.
The project is led by Jane Golding and Fiona Godfrey, Co-Chairs of British in Europe, who will do the bulk of the work as the project is primarily an advocacy project.
They are supported by a group of BiE steering committee (SC) and national group members who have all worked on voting rights with BiE in the past in different capacities, including on BiE’s lobbying on the Elections Bill in 2021 and 2022.
The group includes:
Nigel Aston (EuroCitizens/BiE SC)
Matt Bristow (SC BiG), Roger Boaden (BiE SC),
Christopher Chantrey (BiE SC/British in France),
Kathryn Dobson (BiE SC, France Rights),
Nick Green (EuroCitizens), and
Alison Jones (Vice Chair BiG).
BiE has received a 12-month grant from Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust of £50,000, which runs from 1 November 2022 until October 2023, when the secondary legislation is expected to be in place. This will cover mostly advocacy and some communication work. While the team pledged additional days as contribution in kind, more funding is required to cover:
For these we need to raise a minimum of €10,000-15,000 but additional funding would enable the team to invest in more research and communication.
We know that the secondary legislation process in the UK Parliament is opaque (one of our parliamentary contacts told us there are only about 7 people in parliament who really understand it!) but believe that the expertise that we have built up doing painstaking legal based advocacy, engaging with officials and politicians on the negotiation and drafting of the Withdrawal Agreement, and the networks we have built up through this make us uniquely placed to work on it.
We certainly want to shine a light on the opaque secondary legislation process. We think that this is very important work for democracy in the UK given the increasing volume of legislative provisions passed this way in the last 10-15 years, often without any real scrutiny. For example, when we started our engagement with the Levelling Up Department (responsible for the drafting and adoption of the secondary legislation) back in September we were told that the consultation on overseas voting rights took place back in 2016 and that there was no intention to consult further. However, by December 2022, we had secured a meeting with them, and they were consulting with us, so that is a first win.
The vast majority of overseas voters globally did not have a voice in the last 4 key national votes. So this is a democracy project and affects wider democracy issues in the UK.
Our right to vote is actually also a key element of what citizenship means in the UK in the 21st century. The key right you have as a citizen is the right to vote and yet, in the UK, unlike most modern democracies, this could be removed from you simply for spending a period abroad (the other grounds for removing the right to vote are committing a serious crime, or being mentally incapable of exercising it). This meant that, for example, during the Brexit process, British citizens in the EEA and Switzerland had fundamental rights on which they relied removed without a say in the political process – which was why we set up British in Europe in the first place.