One and a half million foreigners – the equivalent of the entire population of Birmingham and Sheffield combined – could decide the future of an independent Britain, by voting in the coming EU membership referendum.
While the Conservative general election victory has made a referendum of some form an almost certainty, the precise details have yet to be set in stone, with various camps now arguing over specifics, which going one way or another could be seen to give an undue advantage. One such detail is the date of the referendum, with Europhiles pushing for an earlier vote, as this is perceived as giving less time to the Euro-sceptics to organise and get the message out.
Another such decision to be taken is over which electoral roll to use for the vote. At present there are two separate voter lists in the UK, one for the general election, and a second for local and European Union elections. While both franchise British citizens, the general roll gives the vote to Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK, while the local roll also enfranchises European Union citizens resident in the UK – all 1.5 million of them.
This voting bloc, for whom it is overwhelmingly advantageous for the United Kingdom to not change its relationship with Europe could deliver a significant advantage to Europhiles like prime minister David Cameron, who has made no bones about his wanting to remain in Europe.
Although choosing the local roll would be advantageous for Cameron, it would fly in the face of his promise to allow the “British people” to decide the future of their own nation.
The Daily Telegraph reports the comments of Bernard Jenkin, executive member of the influential backbench 1922 committee and leading Eurosceptic, who said using the local roll would be “ridiculous”.
“It would be very odd to use anything but the national franchise because EU citizens do not take part in general elections and they are represented in the European Union by their own national governments.
“This is a national decision and should therefore be based on the national franchise, not the local government franchise. We wait to see the Bill but I do emphasise it would be extremely odd for the Bill to say anything else”.