“It might well delay the referendum if we’re successful but it doesn’t have to. There are cases where legislation has been fast-tracked through Parliament in a few days,” said one man, a 94-year-old World War Two veteran currently living in Italy.
A problematic issue
It is an issue that is proving problematic for a Conservative Party already reeling from internal divisions exposed by the referendum debate and the fallout from Iain Duncan Smith’s recent resignation, not least because, in their 2015 manifesto, they pledged to introduce a “votes for life bill” that would abolish the 15-year rule which currently prevents some expats from casting a vote in the referendum.
A group of expats, including the 94-year-old war veteran, have taken the case to the High Court, arguing that the EU Referendum Act breaches their fundamental rights under European Law. It is easy to see why these people feel so unfairly marginalised when they are among the Britons likely to be most affected by the outcome of the June 23 referendum, with many fearful that they will have to revisit all their expat financial services decisions in the event of a Brexit.
“Penalised” for freedom of movement
“Our clients are being penalised for exercising their EU free movement rights,” said one of the lawyers representing the claimants. “The people [the EU Referendum Act] arbitrarily excludes are those UK citizens who are among those most likely to be affected by the decision taken by voters in this referendum.”
The government now has until April 1 to prepare and submit a written response to the legal action; only once this process has been completed will the court be able to decide if and how the case can proceed.