Right to Vote for All UK-Residents of 5+ Years

A UK Constitution should grant the right to vote in general election to those resident in the UK for 5 years or more.  Currently, non-Brits cannot vote in national elections (despite that they are already allowed to vote in local elections) until obtaining British nationality, which they can apply for after having lived in the UK for at least five years. If all UK-residents of over five years are allowed to vote, everyone will be able to have their say in the future of the country they have chosen to make their home. Interest and commitment to participate in the political process do not just manifest themselves in possessing the right bit of paper.

edited on Jan 28, 2015 by Nicholas Charalambides

Nicholas Charalambides Apr 8, 2015

Hi everyone, I'd just like to bring your attention to this idea as we've not had any discussion on it so far.

Can I ask all of you your thoughts on the idea - whether you support it, or not and your reasons why.


Daniel Gaunt Apr 8, 2015

Generally agree with this (and combine into a general right to a vote provision in the Constitution). However, there are quite a lot of practicalities to address. 

1) How to define 'resident'? There are large numbers who may have been resident for several years, yet who still have an irregular immigration status. Similarly, there are thought to be around 5.5m British citizens living outside the UK who are obviously entitled to live here without restriction. 

2) Prisoners are (mostly) citizens of the UK - how do we deal with them (hence why I say these issues come under one article)?

3) From what age would this apply? (See votes at 16)

4) What about other specific exclusions?  For example, you can be banned from voting if you have been convicted of electoral fraud. 

John Z Apr 8, 2015

My concern is regarding those who have resided in the UK for 5+ years, but have done so illegally.  Under this absolute sounding proposal, even they would have the right to vote.  Can this right be limited?

Rob G Apr 8, 2015

To kick things off, I'm in two minds.

It's always struck me that our current arrangements, where resident Commonwealth citizens with leave to enter the country can vote after a short period, citizens of the EEA can vote in some elections, and others cannot vote at all, regardless of how long they have lived here, are ludicrous.  Obviously, they derive from history rather than current logic, and a radical reformation of our political society - which is what the introduction of a constitution would be - would be a perfect time to reconsider this.

A proposal based on "prolonged residency" does have the merit of ensuring that those people who are in the country making a contribution to our society can have a say in how it should develop (meeting the "No taxation without representation" test), while also making sure that only those people who have a confirmed interest in our society get to participate.

I'm not sure there's one period of time which is more clearly defensible than any other; 5 years has the benefit of fitting in with the "electoral cycle" under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. On the other hand, if benefits are to be withheld from immigrants for a defined period, as Labour and the Conservatives are proposing, maybe that should period be used here, to be consistent...?

There are obviously some constraints from Europe - EU Citizens have the right to vote at elections at a "below the UK" level under the Treaties, so that would have to be retained as long as we remain members of the EU. And I'd also allow Irish Citizens to be treated in the same way as at present.

Finally, one area that might be covered under this proposal - should the same period be used in determining which non-resident Brits are able to vote?

And absolutely finally, should the same provisions apply to referendums?

Rob G Apr 8, 2015

Hmm, having taken so long to write that, two others crept in ahead of me!

I don't see how an illegal immigrant could possibly register to vote without exposing their undocumented status. But it might be appropriate to make it "legally resident".

On the issue of non-residency based exclusions, I think there'll be a number of those that will need to be dealt with in specific sub-sections (age, mental impairment, etc). I don't think we should try and turn this idea on the "patchwork of nationality qualifications" into an over-arching one when some of those other points are already covered by other discussions.

Users tagged:

Tom Austin Apr 8, 2015

I'd far prefer the right to vote be tied to Citizenship, so no right to vote at national level for EU citizens no matter how long they have resided here.

But here again, I view Citizen as being far different from being subject.

Rob G Apr 8, 2015

Would that also apply to Commonwealth citizens?

And to what extent do you believe any of us is a subject rather than a citizen nowadays?

Tom Austin Apr 8, 2015



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Yona Lesger Apr 9, 2015

Nicholas Charalambides, as I understand the "refining stage" of Constitution UK the idea is that rather than discussing whether this idea should be in the constitution, we should attempt to formulate a clause that could be put in the constitution and discuss the wording of that clause. My clause proposal is:

"From the age of 18 onward, all legal residents of the United Kingdom have the right to vote for all British elections and referendums provided they have been resident of the United Kingdom for 5 years or more."

I've chosen five years because currently residents are entitled to UK citizenship, and therefore the right to vote, after five years. I've tried to incorporate some of the previous comments, but please suggest adaptations to this potential clause.

Nicholas Charalambides Apr 9, 2015

Hi Yona,

Indeed, you're correct about the refining phase - I was mainly interested to see if there were any nuances of the proposal that people may have disagreed with, but thank you for your clause!

To those I've tagged - are you in favour of Yona's idea now it has being clarified into a clause?


Tom Austin Apr 9, 2015

Nicholas, Yona.

-It can only be confusing to use, 'British' and 'UK'; I think it best to stick with UK.

-"provided they have been resident" [Why "...'of' the UK?"] What proof is to be used?

On that last point. I was behind a French woman at the last local elections we had, who was insistent that she had filled-out the correct forms and sent them in, but her name was not on the voters-roll; if this is not to be an empty promise - How would residency be established?

And, on BBC QT tonight a man from North America who has been here for years (he said) paying tax, taking part in British society, and yet could not vote. If he was in fact Canadian, (he did not stipulate USA) that is one thing, if he is indeed from the USA that is quite another thing - Citizens of the USA pay tax to the IRS irrespective of where they live in the wider world (?!) had he/must he make some sort of declaration to the IRS, renounce his US citizenship, or none of this should matter?

There is, of course, the Full English Breakfast question too: That neat way of differentiating between 'involvement' and 'commitment' - i.e. The Chicken IS involved, but the pig IS committed.

And (finally) What about 'conscription' and Jury service?

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Yona Lesger Apr 9, 2015

Updated clause:

"From the age of 18 onward, all legal residents of the United Kingdom have the right to vote for all UK elections and referendums provided they have been resident of the United Kingdom for 5 years or more."

I would suggest that the same proof of residency should be used that is currently required when people apply for citizenship.

Tom Austin Apr 10, 2015

Yona, thank you.

So they would be able to 'set' the future without being obligated to it? Be 'involved' rather than at all 'committed'?

Rob G Apr 13, 2015

In that regard, they're surely in the same position as UK citizens resident here - and a different one from UK citizens resident overseas.

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Mark Cooke Apr 12, 2015

It's very difficult to see any principle underlying the current eligibility rules.

I'd suggest:

1) That British Citizens should always have the right to vote (at least if resident in the UK).  Voting from overseas ought to be linked to the obligation to pay taxes,  I would suggest.

2) Any resident with an indefinite right to remain in the UK should be eligible.


This is straightforward to determine,   and is reasonably principled.  A test based on length of residence is difficutl to manage in practice. 

Nicholas Charalambides Apr 15, 2015

Hi Mark,

I'd have to somewhat disagree on your second point with voting being linked to taxes for overseas British citizens. Currently the US is the only industrial country that double-taxes its citizens if they live elsewhere, leading to many people ditching their citizenship or not paying the US taxes that they owe. Any such system, even if linked to the option of not paying in order to not get a vote, seems rather arcane in today's age, where people may move abroad for a short space of time, only to return in the near future.

I'd be averse to this double-taxing in order to qualify for a vote, but would instead be in favour of keeping some form of the current system, which Rob mentions below, of you needing to have lived abroad for over a certain amount of time to not be eligible to vote.

Mark Cooke Apr 16, 2015

I suppose the question is,  should voting rights be principally about a community living together making collective decisions,  or are they about a more nationalistic community of citizens retaining their common connection, wherever they now live?

I strongly favour the former,  so would advocate voting rights based mainly on residence, hence my suggestion,  but I could live with a minimum period of residence.

I think a case can be made for completely excluding non-residents from voting,  but I'd be content to leave this to Parliament.

If someone doesn't pay taxes in a country, I really don't see why they should have a say in how they are spent!


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Rob G Apr 12, 2015

I partly agree with mark.cooke58 - we'd have to provide for all citizens resident in the UK to have a vote, regardless of how long they've been living here at the time. We should also decide whether any citizens resident abroad should have that right (currently, it's people who've been living abroad for up to 15 years). It would probably be sensible for that to be defined quite loosely in the constitution, and authorise Parliament to legislate on the precise details ("Parliament shall define in legislation the terms on which citizens resident outside the UK may vote".)

I'd be reluctant to allow all legal residents to vote - someone doing a 1 year post-graduate degree isn't really showing the degree of commitment that I think voting should be associated with. It shouldn't be that difficult to ask people when they became resident in the UK - I'm sure the DWP/HMRC, etc., could provide confirmation.