Search form

menu menu

Britons living in Belgium can now register to vote in the UK following rule change

10:06 19/01/2024

UK citizens living in Belgium and other countries around the world are now able to re-register to vote in UK elections.

Globally, around 2 million British citizens living overseas will be able to register for a vote in general elections following the rule change. Previously, people who left the UK for more than 15 years ago lost their right to vote.

However, this rule has now been abolished under the Election Act 2022. As from 16 January, affected British citizens in Belgium and elsewhere can now register in the last constituency they were signed up in before leaving the UK. Children who left the UK before voting age can register using the address of their parent or guardian.

There are an estimated 15-20,000 British nationals in Belgium with about 9,000 of these living in one of Brussels’ 19 Brussels municipalities. It is thought the vast majority of these have been here for 15 years or more.

The rule change has been warmly welcomed by Tim Reynolds, vice chair of the Brussels British Community Association (BBCA), who told this site, “This is all good news.”

He added: “I think it is a significant and long overdue change. Many of us UK citizens resident in Europe were upset - to put it mildly - to not have a say in the Brexit referendum - a decision that had a more profound impact on us than most UK citizens.”

He pointed out that, since 2002, the so-called 15-year rule has “disenfranchised” any British citizen who had lived outside the UK for more than 15 years.

The Elections Act 2022 repealed this rule, but required the passing of secondary legislation to implement the change. This legislation was finally approved on 18 December 2023.

Call for citizens to renew their voting rights

With a UK general election due in the second half of this year, he says that if a British national in Belgium wants to vote they should “not delay in reclaiming your rights”

He added: “If you have been living outside the UK for less than 15 years then it may be wise to renew your voting registration as soon as possible as there may be a rush to register when the millions of currently disenfranchised UK citizens got their voting rights back.”

Reynolds continues: “The whole application process is easy if you know your National Insurance Number and have a UK passport.”

He also paid tribute to the British in Europe coalition which had been “instrumental” in promoting and lobbying for change. 

Jane Golding, co-chair of the campaign group British in Europe, added: 'Voting is a basic citizenship right regardless of where someone lives.”

The group says the change in the law has brought the UK in line with other major democracies that allow lifelong voting rights, including the US, France, Italy and Canada.

It was the late war veteran Harry Shindler who challenged the 15-year limit on voting rights in the high court in 2016. He left the UK to live in Italy around 40 years ago.

Motion to create overseas constituencies

Meanwhile, an Early Day Motion, so far signed by six UK MPs, has been tabled in the UK calling for the creation of overseas parliamentary constituencies.

Campaigners say Brits living abroad should be represented by an MP in the UK House of Commons.

The motion notes “that the establishment of overseas constituencies would allow UK citizens living abroad to be represented by an MP who is experienced in dealing with the range of problems overseas residents face.”

It says parliaments in 17 countries have overseas constituency MPs and calls on the UK Government to work with the Boundary Commission to implement overseas constituencies for the House of Commons.

Dr Ruvi Ziegler, chair of New Europeans UK, along with another campaign group, Unlock Democacy, is pushing for the reform. He said: “Legislation is now in place to enable all British citizens living abroad to register to vote in the UK's general elections, expected later this year.

“New Europeans UK, jointly with Unlock Democracy, are campaigning for Britons abroad to be properly represented by dedicated MPs through the establishment of overseas constituencies. We are delighted that Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine tabled an Early Day Motion to that effect and would encourage MPs from all parties to sign it.”

For full information on registering to vote, visit the FAQ blog on the British in Europe website.

Image: British in Europe

Written by Martin Banks