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UK poll: Thousands of Indians vote in May’s ‘Brexit election’

UK still allows legally resident Commonwealth citizens to vote and contest elections, allowing more than 265,000 Indians living in Britain to participate in the polls.

world Updated: Jun 08, 2017 22:19 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
A police officer stands on duty outside a polling station in London on Thursday.
A police officer stands on duty outside a polling station in London on Thursday.(Reuters)

It is called an “anachronism from the days of the British empire” but current laws enabled thousands of Indian citizens legally in the United Kingdom to vote in Thursday’s mid-term election, called Prime Minister Theresa May’s “Brexit election”.

The Indian citizens (not British citizens of Indian-origin) include students, professionals and others who are here for more than six months, and also those who have permanent residency but have chosen to retain Indian citizenship. The number of such Indian citizens in the last census was more than 265,000. 

Indian professionals are based mostly in London and nearby areas, but also in other parts of the UK. Indian students numbered more than 16,500 in 2015-16, according to the latest figures. In 2016, more than  53,800 Indians were given work visas, and they and family members over the age of 18 have the right to vote.

Laws allow legally resident Indian citizens not only to vote but also to contest elections. A leading campaign group has demanded that voting rights for Indian and Commonwealth citizens should be revoked since British citizens do not have the same rights in those countries.

According to Migration Watch UK, there could be as many as one million migrants from the Commonwealth who have the right to vote in UK parliamentary elections, which could influence the outcome in closely contested constituencies.

“Voting rights for the whole Commonwealth are an anachronism from the days of the British empire and should be brought to an end except for citizens from those few Commonwealth countries which grant British citizens reciprocal voting rights,” it said in an analysis of the issue.

“British citizens who move to Canada and Australia would not be allowed to exercise a right to vote until they became citizens of those countries. Nor can they vote in India, Pakistan and Nigeria, the three most populous members of the Commonwealth,” it added.

In 2007, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown commissioned barrrister Peter Goldsmith to review British citizenship laws that included voting rights. It concluded that the laws were the result of changes introduced to deal with members of the former empire gaining independence after World War 2.

Goldsmith noted that clarity was lacking in laws and proposed phasing out the right of Indian and Commonwealth citizens to vote in UK elections: “I do propose that the government gives consideration to making a clear connection between citizenship and the right to vote by limiting in principle the right to vote in Westminster elections to UK citizens.

“This would recognise that the right to vote is one of the hallmarks of the political status of citizens; it is not a means of expressing closeness between countries.”

 The government, Migration Watch UK noted, did not formally respond to the Goldsmith report, but stated in 2008 that it had “carefully studied” it.