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Brits Living Overseas Register to Vote in Large Numbers After Government Change – But Non-British UK Residents Locked Out

This is the first general election in which every Brit living overseas can vote, but many non-British workers living in the UK feel deliberately excluded

Photo: Claire Doherty/Sipa

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Nearly 100,000 British citizens living abroad have registered to vote in the past month, after the Government changed the law to let millions more people vote from overseas. 

For the first time, in this General Election, British citizens living abroad are eligible to vote regardless of how long they have been living outside of the UK.

Due to the change, there are estimated to be 3.5 million Brits living overseas who are now eligible to vote on 4 July. 

Since 18 May, 94,602 Brits living overseas have signed up to vote in the General Election, ahead of today’s deadline to register. In the same period of time in the 2019 General Election, just 8,369 Brits overseas signed up to vote.

While the figure is dwarfed by the 2.17 million registrations since 18 May from UK residents, it is likely to renew a debate about who gets the right to vote in elections. 

Byline Times needs your help to investigate disinformation and electoral exclusion as we head towards the 2024 General Election.

We’re asking for your help to keep track of dodgy campaigning this election, so if you spot anything that bears investigation, please email us at votewatch24@bylinetimes.com.

Previously, Brits living overseas lost their vote after 15 years of being abroad – a policy quietly abolished by the Government in January. 

But, many people living in the UK who do not have citizenship are unable to vote in general elections – no matter how long they have lived here and paid their taxes. 

It comes after Rishi Sunak told the Daily Mail that Britain is heading for a one-party state if Labour wins the election and gives the vote to “immigrants, and all the rest”, as Politico reports

Commonwealth citizens living in the UK and citizens of the Republic of Ireland can already vote, as well as immigrants who have secured British citizenship. 

But it is a questionable claim from the Prime Minister as it is Rishi Sunak’s party which dramatically expanded the franchise – with little debate – to millions more ‘foreigners’. They just happen to be Brits living in other countries.

The Conservatives also introduced mandatory photo ID which former minister Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested was a form of “gerrymandering” to sway elections in the party’s favour.


No Representation 

Frankie Gaynor is the advocacy manager for the Migrant Democracy Project, which campaigns for the right to vote to be based on residency. 

Gaynor, 24 and from South Florida, has lived in the UK for two years and told Byline Times that she came here to undertake a master’s degree. “Now I have chosen to make this country my home, yet I have no say in who represents me — not even at the local level,” she said.

She has pledged to “fight for the right to vote for others like myself who have no say in shaping our political future”.

“If I were living in Wales or Scotland, I could vote at the local level,” she added. “It makes no sense for the rules to apply differently in other parts of the UK.” 

Ukrainian refugee Masha Goubernik, also 24, told Byline Times: “I have already fled war twice, as an internal refugee and now a refugee in the UK. Most of my family and friends are refugees and migrants, and we might stay in this status our whole life due to political situations out of our control. 

“That shouldn’t mean we are excluded from the right to vote in our home, the UK. We want to be equal and active parts of society. We want to shape our own future, we want to vote.”

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Gabrielle Gombert, who lives abroad, is simply happy she has her right to vote back: “I’m enormously grateful for that – I actually have a say in my future again. But it is bitter-sweet because it’s impossible not to look back and think of all those pivotal moments when my vote would have, could have and should have counted. 

“Registering to vote again has been straightforward so I am hopeful the same will apply to the rest of the process up to the casting of the vote.”

According to a House of Commons briefing, until 2015, the number of overseas voters registered to vote had never risen above 35,000. Following registration campaigns, by the UK General Election of 2017, a record 285,000 registered overseas voters were registered. 

This dipped to 105,000 by December 2021, as overseas numbers tend to decline between elections. “Many do not renew their registrations in years when no election is expected,” the briefing explains. However, the number of registered overseas voters is likely to be much higher this year following the extension of the franchise. 

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Millions Missing

Around 7.5 million eligible voters overall are estimated to be missing from the electoral roll, as of this February, which democracy campaigners blame on the lack of automatic voter registration in the UK. This year, voters also have to contend with having to bring photo ID to polling stations for the first time in a general election. 

Advocacy group Generation Rent fears that up to a million private renters could miss out on their vote on 4 July if they don’t register by midnight, according to the group’s analysis of the Census and British Election Study. 

With 70% of private renters having moved home since 2019, the campaign is urging renters to guarantee their voice on polling day by registering online. Private renters are among the least likely to be registered to vote. 

The latest British Election Study, carried out in May 2023, found that 6.7% of private renters were not registered at all, amounting to 455,000 voters. A further 8.1% were registered at a different address – equivalent to 548,000 voters.

Applicants need to provide details of the address and time they were last registered or resident in the UK. Electoral Registration Officers, which are responsible for the electoral roll in their area, must be able to verify an applicant’s identity and past connection to the area.  

Craig Westwood, director of communications at the Electoral Commission said: “It no longer matters how long you have been living outside the UK, if you are eligible, you can register and have your say at the ballot box.

“As an overseas voter you will have to prove your connection to the constituency you were last registered to vote, or where you lived if you have never been registered to vote before.

“We know that there are eligible voters all around the world, so we are calling on anyone with friends and family abroad to help spread the word, and let them know to register before the deadline.”

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Applications to vote by post or proxy in Great Britain can now also be made online. The deadline to apply for a postal vote is 5pm on 19 June, and to apply for a proxy vote is 5pm on 26 June. 

Proxy voting – when someone you trust votes on your behalf – is often suggested as a better option for people worried about a postal vote not arriving in time. 

To find out if they are eligible to vote, British citizens abroad have to call the local authority where they were last registered to vote, or where they last lived in the UK, to check. 


Students with Superpowers

An online service, univoter.com, has been relaunched, which lets students see whether their vote has more power in their home constituency or their university constituency. 

Many students don’t realise that they are allowed to register at both home and university and wait until election day (or when they send their postal vote) before deciding where to vote. 

Campaigners say that this is a “voting superpower” that is uniquely available to students. 

Whether intentional or not, the date the Government has chosen for the election is the “first in the history of modern British elections” to occur outside of university term time, meaning that large numbers of students will be away from their university constituency. 

Around 600,000 people used the UniVoter tool in 2017 and 2019 to work out which seat their vote had the most impact. 

The tool also helps them ensure that they have the correct ID, and arrange a postal/proxy vote if they are unable to be there in-person on the day of the election.

Matt Morley, co-founder of Embeddables, the firm behind the site, told Byline Times: “Students are more apathetic about the election this year than ever, but they don’t realise the unique superpower they have by being able to choose where they vote, home or uni. In 2017, my sister was asking me which one she should choose, and that gave us the idea to build this tool, to give that same data-driven advice to students across the country.” 

Working out which seat’s voters have the most power is based on whichever of these gives the highest “competitiveness score”: including whether it changed hands in the last election in 2019, how big the vote margin was in 2019, and seat-by-seat predictions from the latest YouGov mega-poll. 

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