News & Insights

End to 15-year-rule for expats

“This statement shows how we will introduce votes for life, scrapping the 15-year rule. British citizens who move abroad remain a part of our democracy and it is important they have the ability to participate,” commented Chris Skidmore, Minister for the Constitution.

“Following the British people’s decision to leave the EU, we now need to strengthen ties with countries around the world and show the UK is an outward-facing nation. Our expat community has an important role to play in helping Britain expand international trade, especially given two-thirds of expats live outside the EU.”

However, the policy statement comes too late for the many clients of expat financial services in the EU who wished to vote in the Brexit referendum but were unable to do so because of the limits imposed by the 15-year rule.

A consolation victory?

As such, the case represents something of a belated victory for Harry Shindler, a 93-year-old expat based in Italy who has spent many years campaigning on the issue of UK expat voting rights.

Last year he joined forces with an expat living in Belgium in order to mount a legal challenge against the 15-year rule so that he could vote in the referendum. Despite the belatedness of the decision he said that he was “pleased and grateful that Theresa May has committed to giving expats a vote by 2020”.

He is just one of many UK expats in the EU who retain close links to their country of origin, whether it is through their families, their pensions or their providers of expat financial services.

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This is due in no small part to the “Mutual Assistance in the Recovery of Debt” (MARD) agreements the UK has in place with various countries. These agreements operate across the EU and have been in place since 2012, allowing HMRC to recover taxes that are owed. Other countries signatory to MARD agreements include Norway, New Zealand and South Africa.

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