There seems to be a common misconception that expatriates have not only left their native country but also renounced it.
Expatriate derives from “ex – out of or from” and “patria – country”.
An expatriate is very different to an ex-patriot.
A Scot is generally recognised and accepted as such no matter where he lives in the world. Nobody would consider a Yorkshireman any less of a Yorkshireman just because he happens to live in London.
So why is it that an expatriate is considered to be less of a citizen of his native country than the other citizens?
People are expatriates for many reasons; to study, to work, to take advantage of opportunities to explore the world, to serve their country, to live in a climate that suits them better, to make a meagre pension go further. Some choose to be expatriates temporarily, others intend to be expatriates permanently.
All have connections with their home country; family, friends, history, culture, income, taxation.
So why are UK expatriates denigrated and treated as second class citizens?
Some have their pensions frozen; what would the Yorkshireman think if he was told “if you move to Cornwall when you retire you won’t get any pension increases”?
Others have the right to vote taken away; would it be considered fair if the Kentish Man (or the Man of Kent) had his right to vote taken away after living outside Kent for 15 years?
Yet more have benefits and allowances removed even though they are still paying tax in the UK.
So what do the UK political parties have to say about expatriates?
The Conservative Party is the only one to say that it will make a manifesto commitment to giving all UK citizens the right to vote for life. On the other hand it is the party that has penalised expatriates, using very dubious tactics, to cut the Winter Fuel Allowance and cut back on reciprocal health care arrangements.
The leader of the Liberal DEMOCRATs supports the point of view that one of the fundamental DEMOCRATic rights is time limited, and expatriates ought to become citizens of the country in which they live if they wish to be “politically active”.
According to one of his spokespersons, Nick Clegg supports the 15 year limit for voting rights for expatriates and apparently believes ” it is intuitive that they would know about and be directly affected by the issues of that country. If they want to become politically active, then they ought to register to vote in the country they have settled in.” That is pretty clearly a “go away and don’t bother me” statement.
The other parties don’t seem to have a stance on expatriate voting rights.
Given that the UK has some of the oldest democratic institutions, it seems surprising that it still hasn’t grasped one of the basic concepts of democracy.
To renounce one’s native country is to cut all ties and to be not only non-resident but also non-domiciled (as far as HMRC is concerned) and a lot of us expats are not in that position. Those of us expats with property and relatives in the UK have never left their native country and are well informed through regular visits as well as via the internet news channels. Therefore, in the same way that the political parties are trying to reach out to the on-line generation of eg the 18 – 24 year olds, they should use the internet to inform the British expat diaspora. The parties should stop these dogmatic Left vs Right, out-dated arguments about us expats having no democratic right to vote in our native country after 15 years away, arguing that eg we have no knowledge of the issues involved and will not be impacted by the election result. Within the EU only the UK, Ireland and Denmark limit the voting rights of their expat citizens in this manner. Making prejudicial assumptions about the voting intentions of the British expat community in general is no reason to deprive them of the right to vote in a truely democratic society.
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