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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

British expats lose High Court Brexit vote case but seek leave to appeal

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British expats lose High Court Brexit vote case but seek leave to appeal

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Government fails to follow through with manifesto pledge to enfranchise all British voters

Government fails to follow through with manifesto pledge to enfranchise all British voters

Two million British expats living in Europe will not have a right to vote in the EU referendum, the High Court has ruled.

Harry Shindler, a Second World War veteran who lives in Italy, and lawyer and Belgian resident Jacquelyn MacLennan, challenged a law that prohibits British people who have been living in Europe for more than 15 years from voting on 23 June.

Leigh Day, the claimants' lawyers argued that section 2 of the EU Referendum Act 2015, which created the 15 year rule, unlawfully denied the right to vote on the UK's continued membership of the EU.

Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mr Justice Blake, rejected the lawyers' arguments, however, accepting the government's claims that there were: '…significant practical difficulties about adopting especially for this referendum a new electoral register which includes non-resident British citizens whose last residence the United Kingdom was more than 15 years ago'.

They continued: 'In our view, parliament could legitimately take the view that electors who satisfy the test of closeness of connection set by the 15 year rule form an appropriate group to vote on the question whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union.'

Richard Stein, a partner at Leigh Day, said he was disappointed but confirmed the claimants would appeal the ruling.

'We now intend to take the legal battle to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, so that all British citizens living elsewhere in the EU can be part of the democratic process to vote in this referendum which will have a very real impact on their lives,' he said.

'We believe that there is precedent for fast track legislation being put through parliament in a matter of days in response to court judgment, so there would be no need for the referendum to be delayed if the Supreme Court rules in our favour.

'Since this is a vote in a referendum rather than in an election there is no need to link the votes of Britons in Europe to any particular constituency in the UK. Possession of a British passport should be enough,'

The 2015 Conservative manifesto pledged to introduce votes for life, scrapping an 'undemocratic' rule that bars British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting.

In her response to the judgment, Jacquelyn MacLennan said: 'The government made a manifesto commitment to enfranchise all British citizens, no matter how long they have been abroad saying that they thought that "choosing 15 years, as opposed to 14 or 16 years, is inherently like sticking a dart in a dartboard" and that "if British citizens maintain British citizenship that brings with it rights, obligations and a connection with this country, and that that should endure." We just want the government to keep its promises.'

Speaking at justice questions earlier this week, the attorney general, Jeremy Wright QC, argued that the government had a mandate from the British people to reform the UK's 'human rights framework' as it was a manifesto commitment to scrap Labour's Human Rights Act. Clearly some manifesto commitments have more weight than others.

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