More expats could vote at the next general election because of the new Conservative policy – but how big of an impact will it actually have?
While Rishi Sunak has yet to confirm a date for the next general election – which is expected to be in the second half of the year – here’s what you need to know.
What are the rule changes?
The government recently changed its election rules so that all British citizens living abroad can register to vote in the election.
They can vote by proxy or by post in the last UK constituency where they live.
Acquaintances can also “testify” about someone living in a particular constituency, if they cannot provide proof of their previous address.
Before the new rules came into force on January 16, anyone who left the UK more than 15 years ago could not vote.
The Conservative Party promised to remove these restrictions in their manifesto in 2019, and legislated them through the Electoral Act 2022.
The government estimates there were around 1.4 million eligible voters in the expatriate community before these rule changes came into effect.
Currently, the government estimates there are between 2.3 million and 3.5 million eligible expatriate voters.
If the actual number is close to the upper estimate, it is equivalent to almost three times the number of votes cast in the 2016 EU referendum (1.6 million).
However, there is no official data yet on the number of British citizens living abroad, so it is difficult to know the impact.
However, The Times reported that more than 21,000 Britons living abroad have registered to vote since the rule change came into effect.
This change in regulations brings Britain in line with other large democracies in the world which grant their citizens the right to vote for life.
Who will benefit from this change?
This is Tory policy, and historically, the expatriate community supports the Conservative Party.
However, Dr Susan Collard from the University of Sussex told The Times that expatriate voters could now choose to support both Labor and the Liberal Democrats.
A study he conducted with Professor Paul Webb in 2020 showed that the expatriate community had supported both the Labor Party and the Democratic Lib Party since the 2019 general election.
And Collard said not much has changed since then, especially after Brexit.
Many British expats were unable to vote in the EU referendum because of these regulations, which caused much concern at the time.
If Collard’s predictions are correct, giving the vote to more British émigrés could mean more support for Conservative Party opponents.
How many expats actually vote?
This is where it is difficult to understand how big an impact this will have, as not all eligible expats have applied in the past.Number of British expatriates registered to vote over the years
UK Government: ONS, Election Statistics; Office of the Registrar General of Scotland; Electoral Office for Northern Ireland; OPCS; and House of Commons Library communications, 2017 and 2019 Electoral Commission election data.
A government research report released this January noted that the number of overseas voters did not increase beyond 35,000 until 2015.
Then, high interest in the 2015 general election and interest in the European Union referendum meant that a record 285,000 overseas voters were registered in 2017.
In December 2019, this number fell slightly to 233,000 people living abroad who registered to vote in the election.
The number fell again in December 2021 to 105,000, but registration drops between elections are common.
It is unclear how many people will register to vote from overseas in the next general election.
According to general government estimates, it is assumed that only 17.8% of overseas voters register in election years, while 4.7% register in non-election years.
And as many as 67.3% did not renew their registration to vote at all, meaning they were removed from the rolls.
The government currently estimates around 302,000 expatriates will register to vote in the first election after the 15-year time limit is scrapped.
Based on a warning from the Election Commission, the government also said that surveys looking at voter behavior and voter turnout “are subject to error” because people may “overestimate their likelihood of voting” or think they have voted when they have not.
Others face administrative errors that could hamper their ability to vote.
For example, at the 2017 general election, the Electoral Commission said: “Many British citizens living abroad, especially those who have been away for a significant period of time, may not be able to identify people who are eligible to live in the UK and can they choose. appoint as their representative.”