Campaigning to restore the lifelong right to vote for all UK citizens overseas

Prior to 1985, British citizens living overseas did not have the right to vote. The Representation of the People Act 1985 enabled overseas citizens to vote in the constituency where they had previously lived, but only for a period of five years. That was extended to twenty years in 1989 but reduced to fifteen years in 2000, a limit which still applies today.

It is estimated that around 3 million Britons, of an estimated 4.9 million living overseas, have been denied the right to vote due to the fifteen year rule. 

Many other democracies allow their overseas citizens Votes for Life, something about which Bremain in Spain members feel very strongly. Many were disenfranchised during the EU referendum vote which created a significant impact and uncertainty on their daily lives in their adopted country. Many UK citizens in Europe moved abroad for many different reasons but with the understanding that they could due to Freedom of Movement. Many UK citizens overseas still pay UK taxes, have family and/or close connections to the UK and care deeply about the UK national interest.

Political Background

The three main political parties in the UK have differing opinions on Votes for Life, with the Labour Party maintaining silence on the subject in the last three elections.

The Liberal Democrats 2019 manifesto declared that it will “Enable all UK citizens living abroad to vote for MPs in separate overseas constituencies, and to participate in UK referendums.”. 

In the 2019 General Elections, the Conservative party manifesto included the following:

“We will make it easier for British expats to vote in Parliamentary elections and get rid of the arbitrary 15-year limit on their voting rights “ (Conservative Party manifesto, ‘Get Brexit Done’, Dec 2019, p.48).

It was also included in the 2010, 2015 and 2017 manifestos and to date, this has not been delivered.



We have prepared a template letter for you to write or email your MP. Please remember to include your full name and current address, as well as quoting the postcode for your last address in the UK – this will verify your eligibility to communicate with your MP as a constituent. There are also downloadable memes which you can tweet or share on social media. Please ‘Like’ our Campaign Facebook Page to keep up with the latest news.

We’re thrilled that Harry Shindler MBE and the following organisations have given their backing to our Votes for Life Campaign 2020:

Harry Shindler
Grassroots for Europe
european movement
Best for Britain
In Limbo
Voices for Europe
New Europeans

98 year old Harry Shindler MBE, has been campaigning for the restoration of voting rights for over 20 years . Following his recent trip to London and his discussions in Westminster, he told our Chair, Sue Wilson that he was informed by politicians, “Harry – you will get your vote”. Harry went on to say, “I am confident that we will secure the vote, but we must never let up! We must keep up the fight until everything is safe. Voting rights are an integral part of our democracy. I fully support Bremain in Spain in their endeavours”.

Richard Wilson, Chair of Grassroots for Europe, said, “An important task for the grassroots movement, over the coming months, will be to hold the government to their promises. Those promises include a commitment to restore voting rights to the disenfranchised Brits in the EU. We therefore fully support Bremain in Spain’s Votes for Life campaign”.

Hugo Mann, CEO of European Movement UK, said “Boris Johnson has proven time and time again that he cannot be trusted to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU. It’s vital that we do everything that we can to ensure that, as the people most affected by Brexit, their voices are heard”.

Naomi Smith, CEO Best for Britain, said “Around 3.6 million EU citizens have made their lives in the UK and more than a million British people have chosen to live in Europe. We say give all British citizens and EU citizens resident in the UK an equal say in elections that affect their lives.”

Debbie Williams – Founder – Brexpats-Hear Our Voice 

“All British citizens who move abroad should remain part of the democratic process in the United Kingdom. We have already seen the fall out when they have not been allowed a say in a political process that directly affects their lives. We at BHOV support this excellent campaign.” 

Elena Remigi – Founder – In Limbo

“In Limbo wholeheartedly supports this campaign for the right of UK citizens to carry on voting regardless of how many years they have lived overseas. Living abroad does not mean one loses interest for one’s own country, especially when certain decisions have a direct impact on one’s future, such as the decision to leave the EU.”

Leigh Chandler – Campaign Spokesman – Remain in France Together (RIFT)

“Many hundreds if not thousands of UK citizens living in France have already lost, or will lose, their right to vote in the UK once they have lived overseas for 15 years. RIFT has always championed the right to vote for life, regardless of where you now call home. We wholeheartedly support Bremain in its Votes for Life campaign to address the right to vote for all.”

Emmy van Deurzen Founder of Voices for Europe “

Voices for Europe are delighted to endorse this campaign for votes for life for Brits who live abroad. 

It is now vital for all mobile Brits, as it is for mobile EU citizens, to have a say on their future.”

Roger Casale, CEO New Europeans

“It is good news that the Government has promised to extend voting rights to Britons abroad, even though we deplore the introduction of stricter immigration rules and fewer rights for EU citizens already in the UK. This campaign is needed in order to make sure it delivers on that promise.” 

The New European have recently just written a comprehensive story about the loss of voting rights amongst Britons living overseas which you can read here. In most European counties, British citizens can no longer vote in either general or local elections. However, thanks to a bilateral agreement between Spain and the UK, we can still participate in local elections in Spain.

Campaign Tool Kit


MEMES – Memes for you to download and share across social media. 

TEMPLATE LETTER for you to write or email your MP.

You can view the template letter as a PDF HERE or by selecting the image right.

To download a Word document which you can tailor to your own requirements, select the following LINK HERE

Please remember to include your full name and current address, as well as quoting the postcode for your last address in the UK, so your MP can verify your eligibility to communicate with them.

A simple way to email your MP is through Write to Them – Making it easy to write to the politicians who represent you – even if you don’t know who they are. You can find the website HERE –

Please ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ the Votes for Life Facebook page HERE – @votesforlife2020
You can also use the hashtag #votesforlife on Twitter

Here’s a copy of the recent letter from Boris Johnson to Harry Shindler. We understand completely everyone’s cynicism regarding the government keeping manifesto promises. It’s up to all of us to make sure that after 20 years of campaigning, Harry Shindler gets to vote once more in his lifetime. Harry will be 100 next year!

Johnson Shindler letter

Update 16 March 2020

Bremain in Spain recently raised the issue of Votes for Life with the British Embassy in Madrid, & have received this response:

“The UK government intends to scrap the rule that prevents British citizens who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from participating in UK parliamentary elections. They recognise that many British citizens retain deep ties to the UK and they are therefore committed to implementing votes for life before the next scheduled general election in 2024. An announcement on the government’s plans will be made in due course”.

We appreciate that under the current circumstances, that other important priorities are the focus, but be assured that we will continue to raise this issue at every suitable opportunity to ensure the government keeps its manifesto promises.