Anti-Brexit Parliament Debates Giving Vote to Children, Immigrants As Snap Election Looms

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 23: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves after voting in the European Elections, at a polling station at Pakeman primary school in Holloway on May 23, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. Polls are open for the European Parliament elections. Voters will choose 73 MEPs in 12 …
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Members of Britain’s Parliament moved to make a last-minute three-million strong extension to the electorate itself as the nation faces a Brexit-forward snap general election, potentially within weeks.

Proposed amendments to Tuesday night’s general election vote that could have seen children and non-citizens given the vote for the first time, and just weeks before the vote could take place.

While previous attempts to bring an early election have failed, a sudden shift in position among some of the so-called remain coalition parties means the subject is back on the table — which has focussed minds of some members of the remain-dominated Parliament.

While the makeup of the present house is overwhelmingly anti-Brexit, the United Kingdom voted by a margin of over one million votes to back Brexit in 2016 and bookmaker’s odds support the possibility of a Conservative victory. This would mean Parliament losing its anti-Brexit edge, and hence its ability to keep delaying Britain’s withdrawal itself.

Speaking in the debate ahead of the Tuesday evening vote which will decide whether an election indeed happens this year or not, several ploys to adjust the electorate deciding the future of the United Kingdom in that vote emerged, in an apparent bid to engineer an anti-Brexit election outcome.

First was the demand of Britain’s third party the Liberal Democrats to change the day of the election — a demand received as a cynical move to make sure more of their supporters would vote.

Since the 1930s, elections in the United Kingdom have always been held on Thursdays — a convention now enshrined in law — a practice in contrast to continental Europe where they are generally held on Sundays.

But because of the onset of the Christmas vacation for students, holding an election on a Thursday rather than a Tuesday within the same mid-December week would mean many would have gone home to their parents or on holidays. This, it is reported Lib Dem strategists worry, would reduce their turnout in key university town seats where they perform well.

While major constitutional changes tend to be debated at length and pursued with caution, the prospect of a snap election which pollsters say would deliver a majority for the Conservatives has also prompted calls among left-leaning Members of Parliament to push for the largest change in the electorate itself in generations.

Among other submitted amendments that could have been selected for the election-triggering vote Tuesday night are lines that would have seen children and foreign citizens get the vote in national elections for the first time. Labour spokesman Richard Burgon said Tuesday morning as Labour’s about-face on opposing the election was revealed: “We’ll be pushing to get votes for 16-year-olds, we’ll be pushing to allow EU nationals who can vote in other elections to be able to vote in this general election.”

Lowering the voting age to 16 was in the 2017 Labour party manifesto, but the party lost that election and was not able to implement the policy.

The calls were subsequently discussed in Parliament and could have been voted on Tuesday evening, but were not selected by deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle, increasing the chance of the election vote going ahead.

These sorts of changes to the electorate to benefit one political cause or another are generally known as ‘gerrymandering’, which can also involve the moving of boundaries of electoral areas to include or exclude particular demographics to enhance voting prospects of parties.

But Caroline Johnson, a children’s doctor and Conservative member of parliament outlined some of the reasons to oppose suddenly extending the franchise to children — a long-held ambition for some and already accomplished for regional elections in left-nationalist dominates Scotland — and to foreigners, when she told the house: “It is notable that none of the EU member states allows citizens not from their country to vote in a general election. And with free movement and general elections at different times, one can see why that might be.

“Looking at international norms… the United Nations of which we are part sees 18 as an adult. Refugees are seen as children if they are under 18 years old… All EU member states apart from Austria allow votes only from 18.”

It has been frequently argued by anti-Brexit campaigners that the 2016 referendum was unfairly won because it did not consult children who, so the claim goes, will live longest and therefore be impacted longest by the outcome. Dr Johnson tackled this claim as well, as it was being made to argue for children voting in the snap election, remarking: “The point was made that our children should have a vote because it matters to their future.

“It matters to my four, eight, and 12-year-old’s futures even more, but that is not a rational argument for them to vote. I am concerned about these amendments being potentially put forward being wrecking amendments because what they are doing is trying to change the franchise just before the election.”

The Prime Minister himself also rejected the notion of changing who is entitled to vote. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said of the proposals Tuesday: “18 is widely recognised as the age people become an adult. Below the age of 18 you are treated as a minor in both the foster care system and the criminal justice system.

“Full citizenship rights including voting should be gained at adulthood… It would also mean EU nationals in the UK enjoy wider voting rights than UK nationals in any other country other than Ireland.

“Citizenship requirements are the norm in national elections in democracies, including in the United Kingdom.”

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