Party leaders in Britain ought to pay attention to the concerns of voters living abroad.

Polly Toynbee accurately labels the Tory move to grant British expatriates voting rights for life as “gerrymandering” (First photo ID, now votes for expats: the Tories are showing us exactly what election rigging looks like, 6 February). However, the same applies to Labour’s efforts to prevent it. Both parties are attempting to manipulate our electoral system – one by enfranchising expats, the other by excluding them.

What Toynbee fails to address are the constitutional and ethical issues at stake. In countries like Japan, where dual nationality is not available, foreign permanent residents are unable to participate in any elections. By denying UK citizens living in such jurisdictions the right to vote, they are rendered electorally stateless. Meanwhile, Japanese residents in the UK (who outnumber British residents in Japan) have always retained full voting rights in Japanese elections.

Internationally, the previous voting rights rule for expats set by the UK government was an exception, but it was part of a British system that still discriminates against overseas citizens. Elderly individuals have their state pensions frozen, and expats with foreign spouses are subjected to a visa system that reduces them to second-class citizens, preventing or discouraging many from returning to the UK.

Only a few expat Britons match Toynbee’s depiction of tax exiles who support the Tories. Many of them have made significant contributions as workers and taxpayers to the British economy, and their foreign experience is an invaluable asset to their home country. Now that they have regained their voting rights, it would be wise for all political parties in the UK to take their concerns more seriously.

Overseas voters interested in ensuring this can join the British Overseas Voters Forum at

Prof Edward Vickers
Unesco chair on education for peace, social justice and global citizenship, Kyushu University, Japan

Polly Toynbee is mistaken on two counts when she states that “representation without taxation was whizzed through parliament on a statutory instrument in December”. Firstly, a significant number of British citizens living abroad do pay taxes in the UK through various means – in my case, for instance, taxes on a government pension and rental income. We contribute financially without being a burden to society or exhausting resources. As taxpayers and British passport holders, we have the right to have a say in how our money is spent and to hold the government accountable. Prior to the recent restoration of our voting rights, it was, in fact, a case of “taxation without representation”. Additionally, many of us are unable to vote in national elections in our countries of residence, thus leaving us disenfranchised.

Secondly, this was not simply “whizzed through parliament”. The Conservative party made a commitment to eliminate the 15-year rule in three separate manifestos – in 2015, 2017, and 2019 – and there were several attempts to introduce the legislation prior to that. In April 2022, the Elections Act 2022 received royal assent. Various statutory instruments, implementing the act, were passed in 2023, and “votes for life” finally came into effect on 16 January 2024.

Ruth Woodhouse
Nerja, Spain

So Polly Toynbee believes that the Tories granting us expats the right to vote is a cynical move. Fear not, as we expats also follow the news and are appalled by the Conservatives. A great party (regardless of personal opinions) brought down by self-serving individuals. I am delighted to be able to vote them out of office.

Sebastian Wilberforce
Tai Tapu, New Zealand

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