A potential shockwave ripped through the expat political community across Europe this week, when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that British nationals living in EU countries are no longer allowed to vote or stand in municipal elections as an “automatic consequence” of Brexit.

In a publication following the ruling, the ECJ said, “Following the UK withdrawal from the EU, British nationals who lost their European Citizenship no longer have the right to vote or to stand as a candidate in municipal elections in their Member State of residence”.

Citizenship status is different to being a resident.

According to the official statement, British people who have lived in EU countries even prior to Brexit “no longer enjoy the status of citizen of the Union, nor, more specifically, the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal elections in their Member State of residence,” as an “automatic consequence of the sole sovereign decision taken by the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union.”

The case was brought to the ECJ by a British woman who has lived in France for over 30 years. Lawyers working on behalf of Alice Bouilliez, a retired British civil servant, had argued that EU citizenship should be seen as a standalone status that is not automatically lost due to Brexit, especially if it associated loss of rights caused disproportionate harm to people’s lives.

Bouilliez had been unable to vote in the French elections and was also no longer permitted to cast her vote in the UK elections, as per a UK law that prohibits Brits from casting their votes if they had lived abroad for more than 15 years, meaning she, as a resident of France, had no rights in elections in either country.

Scare for Expat Political Leaders

The solicitor, Mr Fouchet, of Corneille-Fouchet-Manetti avocats in Paris and Bordeaux, said the case would now go back to the Auch court, which is expected to follow the ECJ’s view, following which they will apply to France’s highest appeal court, the Cour de Cassation (which is also expected to maintain the ECJ’s view), and then finally the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg around the end of this year.

“It’s a real blow,” Mr Fouchet said. “What shocks me is that many Britons were not even able to vote against Brexit due to having been out of the UK for more than 15 years and having lost their UK voting rights.

However, in the midst of the potential panic, there was some good news for expats living in Spain, as they are not affected by the ruling of the ECJ.

San Fulgencio Councillor Darren Parmenter, seen here with fellow Councillor Sam Hull, told the Leader “We certainly had the proverbial mad half hour when we first saw this. Whoever wrote the original press release from the EU wants stringing up for not clarifying Spain’s (and others) positions.”

The Leader spoke to the British Embassy for clarification, with a spokesperson confirming, “This judgement does not affect UK nationals’ right to vote and stand in local elections in Spain. These are provided by the bilateral agreement between the UK and Spain, which allows UK nationals who have lived in Spain for more than 3 years to vote and stand in local elections.”

To clarify, the Embassy points out that UK nationals can vote and stand in local elections in Spain once they have been resident for 3 years. To do so, they must be registered on the municipal register where they live (padrón municipal) and confirm their registration on the electoral roll (censo electoral), within the dates set by the electoral authorities before each election.

Moreover, the UK has also changed the rules so expats will be able to vote in upcoming UK elections. The Elections Bill (now Elections Act) received Royal Assent on 28 April. This means that UK Nationals living overseas and who have been previously registered or resident in the UK will now be able to vote in the UK Parliamentary Elections, thus doing away with the 15-year rule, which prevented those UK nationals who had lived overseas for more than 15 years from voting in UK Parliamentary Elections.

The UK Government also plans to make it easier for overseas electors to remain on the register with an absent vote (postal or proxy) arrangement in place ahead of elections. These changes, it is hoped, will be delivered ahead of polls in spring 2024.