Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer delivers a keynote speech at Labour Party Conference on January 4, 2022 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)


Leader of British opposition mulls giving EU citizens the vote in general elections


Sir Keir Starmer, head of the opposition Labour Party, has said he is “looking at” lowering the voting age to 16 and allowing EU nationals who have settled in the UK to vote in general elections.

These ideas irk the Conservatives, who accuse him of wanting to “gerrymander” the elections.

Changing the voting status of EU nationals could enfranchise about 5 million EU citizens over the age of 18.

Labour also wants to extend the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds, who are also more likely to vote for the party. This group comprises around 1.4 million people and would increase the size of the electorate by more than eight per cent.

The proposals are however a step back from 2020, when Starmer suggested extending voting rights to all EU nationals, instead restricting the policy to long-term residents.

The Labour Party is working on a “package of proposals” including votes for settled migrants and 16 and 17-year-olds. But Labour said no final policy decisions had been made.

Starmer said on LBC radio it “feels wrong” not to allow EU citizens who live and pay tax in the UK not to have the right to vote in general elections.

Not giving settled migrants who have worked in the UK for decades full voting rights does not pass the “common sense test”, he said.

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.

The Conservatives oppose the idea and accuse Labour of “gerrymandering”. The general supposition is that migrants are much more likely to vote Labour than Conservative.

David Jones, a Tory MP and former Brexit minister, pointed out that even when the UK was part of the EU, EU-citizens were unable to vote in the general elections. “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.

Some non-British residents, such as Irish and Commonwealth citizens, do have the right to vote in all elections in the UK as a result of historic ties.

Labour’s plans to expand Britain’s electorate are expected to be announced in the party’s next manifesto, with details finalised among senior aides in the coming months.