Long-Term Members of our Communities Should Be Able to Vote Regardless of Their Citizenship
(This article appeared in Anticipations Summer 2023.)
The ability to vote in parliamentary elections should be granted based on long-term integration into one’s community and country, yet we unjustly deny many people this right simply because of the place they were born in, leaving them with no say in policies that directly affect them.
How many people are excluded from voting in this way? According to the Office for National Statistics, 5.9 million residents, or 9.9% of the population, held a non-UK passport in 2021. Of residents not born in the UK, 58% have been in the UK for more than 10 years 1. Therefore, around 5.7% of the population has lived in the UK for more than 10 years but is not able to vote, and somewhere between 5.7% and 9.9% of residents have lived here for more than 5 years and cannot vote. This amounts to denying the franchise to a significant part of the population.
What could the justification for this possibly be? One might object that non-British citizens are not fully integrated into our society, but the facts do not bear this out. The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford has found that migrants are around as likely as UK-born residents to be employed, and that an overwhelming majority of migrants have a good command of English, live in majority-British neighbourhoods, and say that half or more of their friends live in their local area 2. The very migrants we are considering are our neighbours, teachers and friends — them holding a foreign passport does not impinge on our bonds of many years.
Tory MP Greg Hands seems to be worried that migrants could have some secret allegiance to their countries of birth, saying that “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” 3. But this calls to mind the words Richard Burge, Chief Executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, used when describing the speech Suella Braverman gave at the National Conservatism conference: “behind every visa application they see an enemy of the state” 4.
A potential solution would be granting the ability to vote in parliamentary elections to those who have lived in the UK for 5 years, regardless of citizenship. Let us recognise that the migrants in our communities simply want a say in the politics of the country they call their home. Denying representation to those we expect to be integrated seems akin to expecting someone to speak up when they are not offered a seat at the table.
Office for National Statistics. “International migration, England and Wales: Census 2021”. 2021. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/internationalmigration/bulletins/internationalmigrationenglandandwales/census2021 ↩︎
The Migration Observatory. “Migrants’ social relationships, identity and civic participation in the UK”. 17/03/2020. https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/migrants-social-relationships-identity-and-civic-participation-in-the-uk/ ↩︎
Daily Mail Online. “Backlash brews as Starmer is accused of a plot to reverse Brexit and ‘rig’ the polls by giving millions of European workers in the UK and British teenagers the vote”. 14/05/2023. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12083315/Backlash-brews-Starmer-accused-plot-reverse-Brexit.html ↩︎
London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “LCCI reacts to Suella Braverman’s speech to the National Conservatism conference”. 15/05/2023. https://www.londonchamber.co.uk/news-and-insights/news/press-releases/lcci-reacts-to-suella-braverman%e2%80%99s-speech/ ↩︎