Who will be allowed to vote in a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU? Will it be anyone resident in Britain? Everyone with citizenship of an EU member state who is resident in Britain? Everyone resident within the European Economic Area (EEA). Or would it be just British citizens? This is a vitally important issue for the OUT camp because the broader the franchise, the greater the advantage to those who want Britain to remain a captive of the EU.
Suppose the qualification to vote in the EU referendum was the same as that for the recent Scottish independence referendum.
“The following groups are entitled to be on the electoral register for the referendum:
– British citizens resident in Scotland.
– Commonwealth citizens resident in Scotland who have leave to remain in the UK or do not require such leave.
– Citizens of the Republic of Ireland and other EU countries resident in Scotland.
– Members of the House of Lords resident in Scotland.
– Service personnel serving in the UK or overseas with the armed forces who are registered to vote in Scotland.
– Crown personnel serving outside the UK with HM Government who are registered to vote in Scotland.
The key difference from normal voting arrangements is that the minimum age for voting in the referendum will be 16 instead of 18. This means that people who will be 16 years old by 18 September 2014, and are otherwise eligible, can register to vote.”
That would mean anyone resident in Britain who was registered to vote in one or more British elections, whether national, local or for the EU, would be allowed to vote in the EU referendum . The consequence of that would be to allow millions of people who were not British to vote. There would be Republic of Ireland citizens, EU nationals from EU states other than the RoI and qualifying Commonwealth citizens “who must be resident in the UK and either have leave to enter or remain in the UK or not require such leave”. All of this covers a surprisingly wide range of nationalities.
To use such a qualification would be greatly to the disadvantage of the OUT side.
1. Immigrants of all sorts would have a vested interest in Britain remaining within the EU, because outside of the EU Britain would be able to properly control her borders provided her politicians had the will. This would potentially, and almost certainly in actuality, make both future immigration more difficult and reduce the benefits available to immigrants. For example, the bringing into Britain of relatives could be curtailed or stopped entirely. The total number of immigrants with a nationality other than British resident in Britain is an estimated five million. Of these around two million are nationals of other EU states. The foreign born figure is higher with around 8 million foreign born in Britain.
2. British citizens living abroad would be ineligible. Despite being migrants themselves, they would be more likely to vote to leave than foreigners living in Britain, not least because many of them would not be intending to live permanently abroad. Their position would be the exact opposite of foreigners living in Britain, who whether or not they intended to stay permanently in Britain, would have a vested interest in voting for Britain to remain within the EU because it would secure their immediate position in the country. There are an estimated five million Britons living abroad. The majority live outside of the EU.
3.Sixteen and seventeen year olds would be more likely to vote to stay in the EU than older voters because they have known nothing else.
The best case scenario
Suppose the best case scenario for an OUT vote occurs, that only those eligible to vote in general elections were allowed to vote.
The present eligibility to vote in Britain is this:
To vote in a UK general election a person must be registered to vote and also:
– be 18 years of age or over on polling day
– be a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland
– not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote
Additionally, the following cannot vote in a UK general election:
– members of the House of Lords (although they can vote at elections to local authorities, devolved legislatures and the European Parliament)
– EU citizens resident in the UK (although they can vote at elections to local authorities, devolved legislatures and the European Parliament)
– anyone other than British, Irish and qualifying Commonwealth citizens
– convicted persons detained in pursuance of their sentences (though remand prisoners, unconvicted prisoners and civil prisoners can vote if they are on the electoral register)
– anyone found guilty within the previous five years of corrupt or illegal practices in connection with an election
That would still leave RoI citizens and qualifying Commonwealth citizens eligible. Their numbers are considerable. In addition, British citizenship has been handed out astonishingly casually in recent years with citizenship being granted to 100-200,000 people a year since 2000.
To first generation immigrants granted British citizenship can be added millions of their descendants who automatically have British citizenship . They will generally favour Britain remaining within the EU for the same reasons as first generation immigrants will.
This all adds up to the a substantial handicap for the OUT side before any campaign started. Nonetheless, it is the most the OUT side can hope for.
Only a Tory government or a coalition between Tories and UKIP are likely to deliver a referendum. They would probably favour the same qualifications to vote as those used at a general election. Any broader suffrage should be resisted implacably, because the broader the franchise, the less chance of obtaining a vote to leave the EU.
Photo by European Parliament
This article originally appeared on Robert Henderson’s blog Living in a Madhouse.