British expats denied a vote in the UK Brexit referendum have won the right to challenge the government’s decision in the High Court.
Harry Shindler, a World War Two veteran living in Italy And Jacquelyn MacLennan claim the British government is breaching their human rights by not allowing them to vote.
Shindler, 94, said that the legal challenge was the last resort for thousands of British expats living in Europe who are living with the uncertainty of how their rights to live and work overseas would be affected by the vote.
“When I first went to Italy in the 1980s, I had to apply to the police for a permit to live in the country,” he said.
“If Britain were to leave the European Union, all that would return and we would be immigrants in the countries many of us have called home.”
Under European Union rules, the EU has no fall back legislation for managing a country leaving the organisation.
Instead, a break clause is inserted in the treaties binding the countries that allows for a two-year ‘goodbye’ period in which any agreements over the right to live, work and move between nations would be renegotiated, along with trade and diplomatic treaties.
Prime Minister David Cameron has made an election manifesto promise to give expats who have lived overseas for more than 15 years the right to vote in elections in the UK.
However, he has been adamant that this legislation would not be brought to the statute book before the June 23 Brexit referendum.
Pledge to expat voters
Lawyers acting for Shindler and MacLennan have calculated around 2 million British expats are affected by the ban on the referendum vote.
“The government has made promises but we feel expats who live in Europe should have the right to vote on a decision that directly affects their lives,” said a spokesman for the legal team.
The government argues that the 15-year rule will be scrapped this Parliament, but both houses debated the timing and agreed to delay the matter until after the referendum.
“The two matters are not connected,” said a spokesman. “We have promised to change the voting rules and will introduce legislation for this purpose, but this has nothing to do with the referendum.”
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