An estimated three million British expatriates around the world will be able to reclaim the right to vote in the UK next month after years of being disenfranchised.
Under previous rules introduced in 2002 by the Labour government, Britons who had lived abroad for more than 15 years were ineligible to vote in their home country.
But this was changed in the 2022 Elections Act, and after secondary legislation was approved this October, voter registration will begin from 16 January.
Now, many who missed out on voting in elections between 2015 and 2019 – including the Brexit vote in 2016 – are planning to take advantage of the change as Britain faces a possible general election in 2024.
Christie Nicholas, 59, a British therapist who lives in Coin near Malaga in southern Spain, is one of 400,000 Britons in the country who can vote in the UK again.
Ms Nicholas, who is originally from London but has lived abroad for the past 18 years, says she will “definitely” vote in any UK general election if she can, and may use her vote to punish Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
“I will definitely vote if I have the opportunity to,” she told i.
“I really don’t know how I will vote at this moment. But I am not that happy with Rishi at this moment. I have not particularly been impressed with the Tory government in the last few years, no.
“I think politicians need to be more transparent so that we can make a more educated vote.”
For campaign group British in Europe, the chance to vote will be an important victory.
“Brits who have been unable to vote in the UK will finally get a key citizenship right back and for others who could no longer vote anywhere post-Brexit, they will have a say in the political process again,” said co-chairs Fiona Godfrey and Jane Golding.
“The change will be bittersweet for many as some could not vote in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019.”
Campaigners said that NHS healthcare for elderly parents and access to affordable housing for children who may want to study in the UK will be key issues for expat voters.
In another change, Britons will remain registered for three years instead of having to re-confirm annually.
Expats can also vote if they can prove that they lived in a UK constituency at some point as opposed to the previous rule that they had to register to vote in a UK constituency.
Ms Godfrey said she estimated that about 60 per cent of Britons living in the European Economic Area, Norway and Switzerland were unable to vote because of the 15-year rule.
She said that an estimated 600,000 new voters could register from 2024 but many will not.
“Not all of them will register to vote, but still it is a lot of new people coming onto the rolls even if 20 per cent of us register,” she added.
The move brings to an end an almost 20-year battle by the late Harry Shindler, a war veteran who lived in Rome and challenged the former 15-year limit on voting rights in the High Court in 2016.
When successive governments failed to deliver on manifesto promises to repeal the law, he brought the case to the European Court of Justice.