British citizens living in the Cayman Islands and anywhere overseas will have the right to vote in future UK elections regardless of how long they have resided abroad.
Currently, those who have lived outside the UK for more than 15 years lose their right to vote in general elections.
There are an estimated 5 million Britons living overseas.
According to a statement issued by the UK government on Thursday, 27 May, decisions made in the UK Parliament on foreign policy, defence, immigration, pensions and trade deals affect British citizens who live overseas, and it is “therefore right that they have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections”.
Queen Elizabeth II mentioned the change in policy during her Throne Speech earlier this month, and on Thursday the UK government set out further details of the plan to scrap the arbitrary 15-year limit on voting rights.
Under the proposals, all British citizens living overseas who have been previously registered or were previously resident in the UK can vote so long as they register an address in the UK.
The new rules also will mean overseas UK electors can stay registered for longer, including with an absent voting arrangement in place, requiring them to renew their registration details once every three years, rather than annually, according to the UK government statement.
“Electors will be able to reapply for a postal vote or refresh their proxy vote at the same time as renewing their voter registration, streamlining the process and helping to ensure overseas electors have appropriate voting arrangements in place ahead of an election,” the statement read.
Under current arrangements, to register as an overseas elector, a voter must be a British citizen and have been registered to vote in general elections in the UK within the previous 15 years, or, in some cases, individuals can register if they were too young to have been registered before leaving the UK.
Overseas electors, under the new rules, will only be entitled to register one UK address, to which those voters must have “a demonstrable connection”.
According to a House of Commons Briefing Paper, there were 233,000 registered overseas electors at the time of the December 2019 general election.
Before 2015, the number of overseas voters registered to vote had never risen above 35,000, but the UK Office of National Statistics reported that by December 2016, that number rose to 264,000. This massive increase in registered overseas voters was attributed to interest in the 2016 Brexit referendum and an overseas voter registration campaign in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
At the 2017 UK general election, there were a record 285,000 registered overseas voters. At the time, the UK government estimated that this was about 20% of eligible expats under the existing 15-year limit.
Prior to 1985, British citizens living overseas had no right to vote in UK general elections. Legislation passed that year enabled Britons who had live abroad for five years to vote, and that was later extended to 20 years in 1989, and reduced to 15 years in 2000.