EU citizens not eligible for referendum vote, says No 10

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Citizens from most EU countries living in the UK will not get a vote in the referendum on Europe, No 10 has said.

The franchise will be broadly the same as for a general election, rather than local or European elections.

Irish citizens in the UK are eligible. Residents from two other EU nations, Malta and Cyprus, also qualify, along with others from the Commonwealth.

David Cameron is to hold talks with the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at Chequers later.

Legislation for the voting eligibility of the referendum – which the Conservatives have promised to hold before the end of 2017 – will be introduced to Parliament via the EU Referendum Bill on Thursday.

‘Get to decide’

The Bill will make clear that the franchise will follow broadly the same rules as the general election:

  • British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK will be eligible to vote.
  • So too will UK nationals who have lived overseas for less than 15 years.
  • The franchise will not include 16 and 17-year-olds, unlike the Scottish independence referendum.
  • Members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will also be allowed to vote, although they cannot participate in general elections.
  • In total, around 45.3 million people will be able to take part.

A Number 10 source said: “No Brit under the age of 58 has had their say on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

“It is time to put this right and to give people the choice – in or out.

“This is a big decision for our country, one that is about the future of the United Kingdom. That’s why we think it’s important that it is British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens that are the ones who get to decide.”

Eurosceptics have previously claimed that as many as 1.5 million people from other EU countries could have been allowed to vote in the referendum, if it had taken place under the rules for local government elections which allow citizens of other member states to vote in them.

Analysis

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By BBC political correspondent Chris Mason

I’m sure you’ve got better ideas of how to spend a bank holiday Monday than me.

But I wouldn’t mind being that bluebottle on the wall at Chequers tonight, assuming the government’s fly-swatters aren’t up to much.

Less than a year ago, the prime minister was doing his best to make sure Jean Claude Juncker didn’t get the gig as President of the European Commission.

Well, you win some, you lose some. And David Cameron lost that one. Because they call him President Juncker now.

So, Mr Cameron has invited the president around for tea at his country retreat, Chequers. I’m told the prime minister will be “open, practical and friendly” in his approach.

Later in the week, David Cameron will visit Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Poland and Germany. And the talking is only just beginning.

Former Tory defence secretary Liam Fox, a Eurosceptic, said allowing EU citizens to vote in the referendum “would have been an unacceptable dilution of the voice of the British people”.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the plans were “sensible and reasonable”.

“The decision of the people of this country, should be up to the people of this country and the easiest way to to this is to use the Westminster franchise. The government should be supported on this matter,” he said.

However, the SNP is expected to try and get the government to alter the legislation so it allows 16 and 17-year-olds to vote.

‘Seminal exercise’

The party’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson said: “I don’t agree with having a referendum on EU membership – but if it is to go ahead, then Cameron has a responsibility to help ensure it can be an enriching and open debate.

“Young people are our future. It is their UK – and their Europe – so they must have their say.”

On hearing the news that Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar would be allowed to vote, the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said Mr Cameron had “been true to his word”.

“Our voice will be heard as part of the franchise for this seminal exercise in democracy,” he said.

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In 2014, the Conservatives promised to remove the 15-year cap on expats voting in general elections if they were returned to power.

Party chairman Grant Shapps said at the time: “Being a British citizen is for life… we believe it should also give you the lifelong right to vote.”

But Conservative backbencher John Redwood told the Today programme it would be “wrong to hijack” the referendum to extend the vote to groups not previously included in the franchise.

And he said it was “a myth put around by the pro-Europeans” that 16 and 17-year-olds were interested in the issue of Europe.

‘Worthless’

This week, Mr Cameron is also set to embark on a tour of personal meetings with other EU leaders to talk about the UK’s agenda for reform.

He will meet the leaders of Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Poland and Germany.

Mr Cameron is also hoping to talk to all other 27 leaders of EU member states individually before the June European Council at the end of next month, No 10 added.

UKIP MP Douglas Carswell said the prime minister’s promised renegotiation would be “more or less worthless”.

“There are people in Brussels who would give an arm and a leg to try to keep us in. He could use that to leverage to get a fundamentally different relationship with Europe,” Mr Carswell said.

“But, of course, we now know he’s not seeking treaty change and none of the new deal that he is looking for will apply specifically to Britain… none of it is going to fundamentally change our relationship with Europe.”

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