Keir Starmer scales back plan to extend voting rights to EU citizens

Sir Keir Starmer has scaled back a 2020 pledge to extend voting rights to all EU nationals, instead restricting the policy to long-term residents, according to Labour party officials.

During his leadership campaign three years ago the Labour leader promised to give all EU citizens with “settled status” in the UK a vote in general elections, in a bid to woo the party’s Remain-supporting membership.

We need long-overdue security for EU citizens,” he said at the time. There are currently 3.4mn EU nationals in Britain with settled status and another 2.6mn with “pre-settled” status.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that the full pledge would be in Labour’s manifesto ahead of next year’s general election, prompting anger from Conservatives MPs who accused Labour of “gerrymandering”.

But Starmer’s allies on Sunday said the claim was “wildly overdone” and that the policy would not apply to all EU nationals.

Instead, Europeans living in the UK would only be allowed to vote if they had paid tax in Britain for a number of years, said officials, adding that the details of the policy were still being worked out.

Even the idea of a limited extension of the franchise to longstanding UK residents from the EU would be controversial, however, given migrants are considered more likely to support Labour than the Conservatives.

Labour also wants to extend the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds who are more likely to vote for leftwing parties.

David Jones, a Tory MP and former Brexit minister, said the move was a “patent attempt to gerrymander the voting system in the UK”.

“Even when we were in the EU, EU nationals here couldn’t vote in general elections in this country,” he said. “It makes no logical sense at all now that we have left.”

A Conservative spokesperson described the policy as an attempt by Starmer to lay the groundwork for rejoining the EU. “Allowing millions of foreigners to vote is Sir Keir Starmer’s admission that he doesn’t trust the British people.

“These are not rights that UK citizens living in the EU have or EU nationals in the UK have ever had,” he said.

Jonathan Reynolds, shadow business secretary, told Sky News that there were “arguments for expanding the franchise”.

But he added: “I don’t think any changes to how the British state works, how democracy works, should ever be considered through any party political lens. It should be about what is right for the country.”

When it comes to local elections, EU citizens who have lived in the UK since before Brexit have retained their right to vote.

But those who have arrived since December 2020 can only vote in local elections where there are reciprocal arrangements with other countries. So far, the UK has negotiated such mutual voting agreements with Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and Poland.

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