EU referendum: High Court refuses to judicially review ‘15-year rule’
Two ex-pat Britons have failed in their High Court bid for the right to vote in the UK’s EU membership referendum in June.
World War Two veteran Harry Shindler, 94, who lives in Italy and Jacquelyn MacLennan, a lawyer and resident of Belgium, sought judicial review of a law preventing British citizens who have lived elsewhere in Europe for more than 15 years from voting.
Two High Court judges were asked to declare whether section two of the EU Referendum Act 2015, which provides for the “15-year rule”, is an unlawful restriction on freedom of movement, a fundamental principle of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
However, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones, sitting with Mr Justice Blake, ruled that section two was not a restriction – rejecting their judicial review application. They added that even if the ban did restrict free movement, it would be “objectively justified”.
Aidan O’Neill QC, for the applicants, argued earlier this month that the rule was arbitrary and that the UK government had identified “absolutely no reason for it”.
He added that the government was giving the vote to those “with the closest of links to the UK” but that Britons in Europe had the greatest interest in the outcome of the vote.
Mr O’Neill said: “Without British membership of the EU these two British citizens will no longer be EU citizens.”
James Eadie QC, for the government, said that the legislation did not affect free movement and indeed was not open to challenge on the basis of EU law.
He added that the effect of a “leave” vote on those affected by the rule “would be subject to negotiation with other member states and cannot be predicted at this stage”.
The QC also warned that, were Mr Shindler and Mc MacLennan to succeed in having the law changed, it could prevent the referendum taking place on 23 June.