Foreigners’ Right to Vote at UK Referendum on EU Membership to Be Hot Issue

Foreigners’ Right to Vote at UK Referendum on EU Membership to Be Hot Issue © AP Photo

23:46 18.05.2015(updated 00:10 19.05.2015) Get short URL
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Political analysts claim that the issue of giving foreign residents a say on whether Britain should stay in the European Union is likely to become subject of heated debate as the 2017 referendum draws nearer.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The issue of giving foreign residents a say on whether Britain should stay in the European Union is likely to become subject of heated debate as the 2017 referendum draws nearer, political analysts told Sputnik on Monday.

The Conservatives, who won the UK general election on May 7, promised to hold an in/out referendum in two years. If more than one million of foreigners living in the country get the right to vote, it will almost certainly guarantee the UK continued membership in the union.

“This will surely be debated when the Referendum Bill comes before Parliament. I don’t think personally that foreigners (even EU citizens) will be allowed to vote,” Alan Sked, expert on the European Union and European history, told Sputnik.

Sked, who is professor at the Department of International History at London School of Economics, said much will depend on whether the government advocates voting to stay or leave the 28-nation union, although Britons will have a say in the matter.

“Most British people would not accept the result, however, in my view, if it were seen to be determined by foreigners,” he noted.

Paul Cairney, professor of Politics and Public Policy at the University of Stirling, agreed that the foreigners’ right to vote in the referendum constituted a legal gray area since EU residents living in Britain are eligible to vote in devolved and local but not national elections. All EU nationals were also allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum last September.

“I’d imagine that the UK Government will decide, and will not be directed by European institutions, but I really don’t know how it will play out,” Cairney said to Sputnik.

Craig McAngus, a research fellow at the University of Stirling in Scotland, said he thought it will be “quiet difficult for the UK government to argue to not allow foreign-born people to vote.”

A lot of pressure on the Conservative majority government to include foreigners will come from other political parties, such as the Scottish National Party and organizations like trade unions, the expert said. McAngus added the Scottish referendum has set the precedent for foreigners’ participation. Scots are largely believed to be pro-EU.

He explained that a high number of foreigners working in Britain have a vested interest in keeping the United Kingdom inside the European Union.

The upcoming Brexit referendum comes as Prime Minister David Cameron’s seeks to revise UK relations with the European Union. He is due to present his vision of reforms in the bloc at a meeting of EU leaders in late June. One of the contentious issues is putting curbs on migration to Britain amid a rising inflow of arrivals from EU’s poorer nations in Eastern Europe.

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