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East of England Liberal Democrats

Give EU Citizens a Vote in General Elections and Referendums

April 17, 2019 4:00 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Today, 50 years on from the UK extending the franchise to 18-year olds, British politics is still blighted by democratic inequality. This is particularly stark in the case of the 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK. In just under three weeks these nationals will have a vote in local elections, but this is a right they are denied in General Elections and referendums. Fifty years on from giving more people the vote we still have a long way to go.

Liberal Democrats have campaigned for a People's Vote for almost three years. I have been proud to lead a party that has unequivocally stated that Britain is better off in the EU. We have been clear that a vote for us is a vote to give the people a final say on the Brexit deal with the option to stay in the EU. Much to my confusion, however, we have repeatedly faced the accusation that going back to the people is in some way undemocratic. My answer to this has always been the same: how can more democracy mean less democracy? I feel the same way about extending the vote to EU citizens. A functioning democracy has no reason to fear more participation. It should embrace it.

The 2016 referendum and subsequent General Election have left EU citizens living in the UK in an unforgivable state. They have been left under a cloud of uncertainty: unsure as to their future in the UK. These are people whose homes are here, they have friends and family here, they are a pivotal part of our society. Yet in these crucial votes, they were barred from participating. In votes that impacted their lives perhaps more than anyone else's, they were denied a voice and instead had to watch as others voted to take away their basic rights. The situation is unjustifiable. At the heart of British politics lies democracy, equality and fair play. That is why I believe that whatever happens next with British politics it is time to right the wrongs of our electoral system: EU citizens must have a say.

Not only have EU citizens made their homes here but they pay Income Tax and National Insurance too. There should be no taxation without representation. A significant proportion of their wages go into keeping the country running and yet they get no say in how these taxes will be used. To think that this disenfranchisement persists for almost 4 million of our citizens is embarrassing.

As well as contributing to our public services financially, EU citizens are also crucial to their day-to-day running. EU citizens are integral to our NHS, for example. In England, 7% of doctors and 10% of nurses are EU nationals. They have saved lives and they keep our NHS going. These contributions are invaluable and there is no good reason to deny them the vote in return. It is time the Conservative Government stop digging their heels in and act to extend the franchise to reflect the reality of modern Britain.

Whatever happens next with British politics it is time to right the wrongs of our electoral system: EU citizens must have a say.

In just under three weeks, more than 8000 Councillors will be up for election across England. These Councillors will have the power to make crucial decisions on important issues including the protection of vulnerable children. In these elections, EU nationals in the UK will have a say. It is vital that they use it. Voting in these elections will help elect hard-working Councillors and send a message to those in Westminster about the direction they are taking the country in.

High EU voter turnout will also demonstrate that EU citizens are eager to take part in UK civic life: that if you give them the vote they will use it. Fifty years on from giving 18-year olds the vote it is time the Conservative Government come out of the dark ages and make some long-overdue progress. For the first time since the sixties, it is time our democracy is significantly extended. Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for the rights of EU citizens throughout the current Brexit chaos and beyond. Part of this fight will continue to be to finally give them the vote. It is long overdue, and it is the right thing to do.