Clause 11 - Voting and candidacy rights of EU citizens

Part of Elections Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 21st October 2021.

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Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement 12:30 pm, 21st October 2021

The Labour party strongly believes that all those who are subject to local laws and politics have a claim to political representation. Essentially, anyone who lives in a local area and uses public services should have a say in how they are run. That fits with our arguments on overseas electors. Anyone who has lived outside a country for a substantial amount of time can no longer claim to have such a close connection.

Although the Labour party welcomes efforts to ensure that some UK residents from the EU will retain their voting rights, we do not think that the provisions go far enough. At present, citizens of European Union member states resident in England and Northern Ireland are automatically granted voting and candidacy rights in local elections, Northern Ireland Assembly elections and police and crime commissioner elections by virtue of being EU citizens. The rights granted to EU citizens in the United Kingdom were reciprocated, so that UK citizens living in EU member states were also granted local voting and candidacy rights in their respective countries.

Now that the UK has left the European Union, and with the ending of free movement, the basis for an automatic grant of voting and candidacy rights to a European citizen of course no longer exists. Correspondingly, individual EU member states are now able to set their own rules for local voting rights with reference to resident UK citizens. I put on record that the Labour party would like to see measures to ensure that citizens from countries that already unilaterally grant local electoral rights to British citizens resident there are granted local electoral rights in England and Northern Ireland, regardless of whether the UK has negotiated a bilateral treaty with that country.

Luxembourg citizens resident in the UK can vote in England and Northern Ireland local elections, whereas Dutch citizens cannot, even though British citizens resident in both Luxembourg and the Netherlands have local electoral rights in those countries. Since the Secretary of State already has the power to remove from the list a country that ceases to be party to the relevant bilateral treaty, they should similarly have the power to remove countries from the list when the local electoral rights of British citizens in that country are unilaterally removed.

Although the Labour party welcomes efforts to ensure that some UK residents from the EU retain their voting rights, we do not think that the provisions go far enough. We emphasise that people who live here, who contribute to society in a broader sense than just through paying taxes, and who stand to be affected by the outcomes of any electoral process, should have the right to vote. That principle is already active in UK electoral law as it relates to overseas voters.