UK: Labour considers extending voting rights to EU citizens


Labour is considering extending voting rights to some EU citizens living in the UK if the party wins the next general election.

The party is working on a package of proposals, including votes for some EU nationals and 16 and 17-year-olds in general elections.

In 2020, Labour’s leader Sir Keir Starmer called for all EU nationals to be given full voting rights in the UK.

But Labour said no final policy decisions had been made.


Labour’s shadow business secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, said the party’s policy on the issue had been the subject of speculation and discussions about this were “part of our manifesto process”.


“We do want to strengthen our democracy,” Mr Reynolds told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme. “We believe if people make a contribution to this country, if they live here, there’s an argument for having them involved in [the democratic] process.”

The Conservative Party said Labour’s plan to give foreign nationals the vote at parliamentary elections “is laying the groundwork to drag the UK back into the EU by stealth”.

“The right to vote in parliamentary elections and choose the next UK government is rightly restricted to British citizens and those with the closest historical links to our country,” Conservative Party Chairman Greg Hands said.

Currently, EU nationals who are legally resident in the UK can vote in local and devolved elections but not general elections.

A Labour source said the party was thinking about proposals “that will enable people who live and contribute long-term to our society to be able to have their say in how the country is governed”.

The source said Sir Keir believes it is “fair and right” to give those people a voice in elections.

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But the source said the details of the proposals have not yet been decided, despite suggestions made in newspaper reports by the Financial Times and the Sunday Telegraph.

There are an estimated 3.4 million EU nationals with settled status in the UK, and a further 2.7m with pre-settled status.

Settled status allows EU citizen to continue to live, work and study in the UK on an indefinite basis, while pre-settled status is a grant of temporary residence for five years.

The idea of extending the franchise to more EU nationals in the UK is controversial, with the Conservatives branding such a move “an attempt to rig the electorate to re-join the EU”.

When Sir Keir was running to be Labour leader in 2020, he said the “government should give all three million EU nationals living in the UK full voting rights in future elections”.

“We were never just ‘tolerating’ EU citizens living in this country – they are our neighbours, friends and families,” Sir Keir wrote in an op-ed for the Guardian. “To see their status in doubt devastates our sense not just of justice but also of fellowship.”

Labour’s 2019 manifesto included a commitment to “oversee the largest extension of the franchise in generations” by lowering the voting age to 16 and giving “full voting rights to all UK residents”.

As the party looks ahead to the next general election, it is deciding what reforms on voting rights to propose in its manifesto.

The BBC has been told Labour’s package of proposals will include the introduction of votes for 16- and 17-year-olds, in line with Scotland and Wales.

At the moment, 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed to vote in elections for the Scottish and Welsh devolved parliaments, but cannot vote in general elections.

A commitment to lower the voting age to 16 was included in both Labour’s 2015 and 2017 manifestos.

The Greens and the Liberal Democrats also support lowering the voting age.