Letter to the Editor - Expat Voting Rights

Published April 9, 2011
 Dear Editor,

 Well done Harry Shindler.

 I am the co-founder of and the legal adviser to the British Expats Association (Spain).

 We first took up this fight in the late 1990s when the Blair government were proposing new legislation to reduce even further the rights of Brisith citizens to vote in UK Parliamentary elections following an absence from the UK of 20 years, as it then was.

 The proposal at that time was to reduce such a right to 5 years of absence, albeit following much opposition this was eventually reduced to 15 years.

 I petitioned Lord McKay, who was then defending our rights in the Upper House, when during that debate one fool awoke from his slumbers and declared British citizens can have no interest in the United Kingdom beyond a period of 5 years absence. Whereas the reality is that a very large number of such citizens do in fact return to their former home country in the very last years of their lives and in this respect I am now looking to sell up in Spain and to return home. Like the overwhelming majority of expats we are British, both in name and in heart, even though we may have chosen to exercise our right of free movement within the Member States, during those few years after retirement when we still somewhat active.

 It will be recalled that the Blair government had a substantial majority in the Commons at that time and therefore the Political Parties Voting and Referendum Act 2000, had a virtual free passage at Westminster. This Act entered into force on 1 April 2002.

 We again took up this matter in my own name, as not only had I been a regular soldier, I had also served in the Metropolitan Service for almost 30 years, therefore I had spent most of my working life under a sworn allegiance to the Crown with all the attendant risks. I too have immediate family in the UK and visit there frequently. Further, as a former Crown Servant my police pension is subject to income tax only in the UK by virtue of one of ever a hundred bilateral agreements the UK has worldwide, including with all of the EU Member States. In my case it is The Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Spain) Order 1976. As a result of which, although we are UK income tax payers we get absolutely nothing in return.

 These bilateral agreements apply to all those who receive a pension from the UK government or local authority for services rendered to our government or a local authority, albeit most are contributory pensions, therefore, following the advent of the EU there is a vast army of expats caught up in those agreements and pay UK income tax PAYE as I do. My state "old age" is subject to the tax laws of Spain.

 Therefore, those such as myself, not only have no say in the matter as to how our income is spent, we also have no right of formal complaint to our national Parliamentary Ombudsman, since any complaint to them must normally come through one's constituent UK MP.

 The war cry of those rebels in the Americas which led up to that war of 1756 was, "Taxation without representation is tyranny". We never really learnt from that episode of our history.

 The United Kingdom has always chosen to refer to itself as the candle of democracy and yet we have no written constitution, whereas most other democratic States do and included into the more notable constitutions is the right to suffrage, irrespective of absences from one's homeland.

 There are those who would cite Magna Carta, done that day at Runymede 15/06/1215. King John did not sign that document, albeit it was signed in his name by proxy.

 However, it only provided certain rights for the wealthy land owners (Barons). It was amended on several occasions and after only a few short years it was discarded forever. The fact of the matter is that no government in our history has been brave enough to draw up a written constitution, instead all we have to rely on as a people is past codes of practices, which we conveniently refer to as Common Law.

 Community law does not specifically address the matter of national voting and even where it provides certain rights of suffrage, emanating from Article 8 (b) of the Maastricht Agreement 1992, voting for a Spanish EMP will not serve my interests where I have cause to make complaint about any of the UK government’s various agencies.

 The response I received from the Committee on Petitions at the EU Parliament, was that as Community law stood, then there was no breach under Community law.

 He response I received from the ECHR was even more curt, since they set out, “…decided under Article 28 of the Convention to declare the application inadmissible because it did not comply with the requirements set out in Articles 34 and 35 of the Convention.”

 Therefore, in effect the court decided that they did not consider my human rights had been breached. I have attached a copy of their letter of reply to me.

 The only real difference between the circumstances of my appeal and that by Mr Shindler, is that he resides in Italy and I reside in Spain and I am now grown older.

 Whilst I am extremely pleased for Mr Shindler’s success, my own experience with the European Court of Human Rights throws into question the very integrity of this court and provides ammunition for those in that place (Westminster), including David Cameron, who would see GB withdraw from the very Convention (Convention for the Protection for Human Rights and fundamental Freedoms) which the Court, through the Council of Europe, is expected to secure compliance of that Convention, by those States (High Contracting Parties) who are a signatory to it.

 You can view my personal petition on our website www,ukgovabusesexpats.co.uk.

Kind regards,

David R. Burrage