By Michaela Benson, Chantelle Lewis and Katherine Collins
I offer my sincere congratulations to my hon. Friend on bringing this Bill forward … Does he agree with me that in this centenary year of Emmeline Pankhurst’s efforts to get women the vote in this country, the same thing most apply to voters of over 15 years’ longevity abroad? This could open up the franchise to another 1 million people. It must be the correct thing to do … it is a disgrace for certain Labour Members to try to deny the vote to women who have lived overseas for longer than 15 years. —Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP (Con)
On 23rd February 2018, the Overseas Electors Bill 2017-19 – which proposes that British citizens should have the right to vote in British elections throughout their lives regardless of the number of years they’ve lived abroad – passed its second reading.
Wrapped up in symbols and stereotypes, with a cast of characters that included Emmeline Pankhurst and Harry Shindler, the meaning of ‘Britishness’ was at the heart of the debate as it played out for an hour and a half on the floor of the House. What seemed to be at stake was not so much the question of whether it was practical to extend the vote to UK Citizens living overseas, but whether the British abroad could be considered British enough (and whether the British abroad contribute enough to life in the UK) to be granted suffrage.