Philip Johnston, Telegraph (London), April 16, 2007
Nearly one million Commonwealth citizens could swing the result of a close general election unless voting eligibility is restricted, a think-tank says today.
About 988,000 non-British citizens from 50 Commonwealth countries are entitled to vote under a 90-year-old convention as long as they are resident in Britain.
Migrationwatch calls this a “hangover from the past” that was never intended to bestow voting rights on so many people.
The think-tank believes they should lose their right to vote in British elections.
In a report today it also says no checks are made on the immigration status of those who register to vote, which increases the chances of illegal participation.
People from Commonwealth countries, including those with large communities here, such as Australia, Nigeria and Pakistan, can vote in local and general elections.
But Migrationwatch says the right to vote should be confined to UK citizens and those whose countries provide reciprocal rights, such as Ireland and half a dozen Caribbean islands.
Proof of citizenship should also be required on first registration on the electoral roll.
EU citizens are already allowed to vote in local polls under reciprocal arrangements within Europe, but not in national elections.
Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migrationwatch, said: “A fair, honest and equitable electoral system is the bedrock of a democratic society. Few people realise how many non-citizens have the right to vote and how feeble are the safeguards against illegal voting.”
Sir Andrew said this issue had become increasingly important given the unprecedented rise in immigration in recent years and the widespread use of postal voting.
“It could mean that the outcome of a close-run election could be affected by the votes of people who are not British citizens and who may not even have the right to vote,” said Sir Andrew.
“At present, for example, there is nothing to stop an Albanian claiming to be a Cypriot or a Somali posing as a Kenyan.”
He added: “The massive immigration of recent years has rendered this a very significant and sensitive issue.
“Most people would regard the present position, which stems from a law passed in 1918, as wholly inequitable. After nearly a century of massive changes in our society it is high time it was tackled and our electoral system brought up to date.”
The Representation of the People Act of 1918 provided that only British subjects could register as electors. However, the term “British subject” included any person who owed allegiance to the Crown, regardless of the Crown territory in which they were born.
This included Commonwealth citizens and has never been revised. The report says this is “an anachronism that should be removed”.
It adds: “It devalues the concept of citizenship that the government is seeking to encourage. Further, it could now enfranchise approximately a million non-British citizens, thus having a significant impact on the outcome of a close election.”