The Political Representation of the Expatriate?

A Discussion Paper                  Author  Brian Cave


This paper discusses the means whereby the British Expatriate could be represented in the British Parliament.  It explores the most expeditious means to achieve this under current conditions of financial restraint, an increasing world-wide movement for Democracy and rapidly accelerating ease of communication.

Axioms- It is taken as being axiomatic:-

That a Nation is the sum total of its Citizens.  (It is not only a geographical entity)

That each Citizen has a natural bond with the Government of that Nation.

That each Citizen has a right to a voice in that Government.

Conclusion to this paper

That  Full Representation in the House of Lords should be the final solution.  But for reasons of cost and practicability, a half way stage should be introduced whereby the current system is extended to allow for life voting for expatriates but accompanied by a form of Representation by appointed peers.


A -1 – The Distinction between ‘Voting’ and ‘Representation’.

Voting is a mechanical process.  Representation is a dialogue.

There is a confusion in many minds between ‘voting’ and ‘representation’.  Let us explain by reference to the work of a GOOD constituency MP in Britain. [‘he’ is used generically throughout this paper to include both male and female MPs and voters.]

The GOOD MP has ‘surgeries’ frequently.  He visits societies, factories, the local authorities and their councillors, schools, hospitals and youth clubs, elderly people’s homes and so on. He gives occasional public speeches in his physical constituency.
In this way he attains a DIALOGUE with his constituents.  The channels for a TWO WAY relationship exists.  The MP gathers a true understanding of the lives and local difficulties of the constituents.

The expatriate constituent  under the system of VOTING (for up to 15 years) for a British based constituency has no possibility of such a DIALOGUE. 

A-2  -What motivates the expatriate to consider voting?

1. Loyalty to the concept of Britishness.

2. Concern about Britain’s role in the World.

3. Concern for their families living in Britain.

4. IN EUROPE – The place of Britain in Europe and the interaction of Europe wide regulations.

5. The knowledge that treaties and agreements signed by Britain affects them. This is especially true in Europe.

6. The British Regulations which personally affect them. Large numbers (particularly pensioners) are affected by financial (but not only financial) rules.  They are passionately concerned about this – this is why we get so often the mantra ‘No taxation without representation’. 

A-3 What deters the expatriate from voting? Variously--

1. They feel detached from the constituency system.

2. The 15 year rule inspires no confidence in the British Government.  They get the feeling of not being wanted.

3. The constituency MPs are not interested in them. There is no dialogue.

4. They have cut their links with the UK..

A-4 The value to Britain of the expatriates.

1. In brief, they are all ambassadors of British culture.

2. Most display a pride in Britain and very few want to suppress their nationality.

3. This all reflects in trade for Britain and a spread of British goods, services, concepts and good international relations

A-5 The views of the expatriates

The web site has amassed about 500 comments from the world population of expatriates.  There are two locations of comments on the site.



Can a UK constituency truly represent an expatriate? 


1. The complexity of the British based laws which affect expatriates makes it almost impossible.  Some MPs  do not even attempt to understand the lives of their expatriate constituents. ‘Pensioners Debout!’ *(see note- author)  has correspondents who have been given the brush off by their British based MP, even saying in effect “You live abroad and I cannot represent you”.

2. Further, this system of voting for a British based MP just dissipates information over 600+ MPs and no one MP ever sees the big picture.


3. A considerable number of expatriates have never had a close bond with a geographical constituency, nor do they want to be represented by an MP of any such constituency. [They may have been working abroad for Government agencies or otherwise and have no special constituency link.) They are moved strongly by the items in A-2 above.  If they were not, they would not vote.  They are not necessarily interested in local issues of a UK based physical constituency

.   This is a genuine problem which must be addressed.  It can be tackled only by allowing the citizen firstly to demonstrate that he has not had a recent constituency residence, and then secondly to choose a constituency (or e.g. unless separate expat constituencies are defined).


4. The expatriate remains in real terms unrepresented –see argument A-1 above.

It is unlikely that the expatriate  would be strongly moved to vote under the system of votes for existing constituencies, unless it is clearly demonstrated that a much stronger form of Representation of his special needs, was also brought into play alongside.



In other words the existing system can never achieve the position whereby an MP based on a constituency in Britain can be truly representative of any expatriate.

This is surely a major reason (among others – see A-3 above) that the majority of expatriate citizens just cannot be bothered to vote. The expatriate is much more likely to vote for someone who represents his needs. 

At present the expatriate can only vote according to party allegiance or the conditions of the particular constituency (in which he does not live), but his special needs are not referenced.


Because currently, few expatriates vote, the Government assumes they are not interested in the political scene in Britain.



B  The Current Situations

EUROPE  a special case ( consider free movement of goods, services and EU citizens)

In EUROPE there is a 3-way political and democratic relationship with expatriates (The UK; the Host State; and the EU).  The evolution of the EU demonstrates the concept of a Nation being something other than a geographical area.  The EU image is more of a network of interlacing Nations.

The British citizen can move around unhindered but remains a British Citizen all the time.  He can live 5 years here and 5 years there and is all the time an ‘ambassador’ for British culture.

The role of  MEPs in Representation?  

Unfortunately the MEPs have shown themselves to be of little help in representing the expatriate. They have no influence in the British Parliament  Neither a British MEP  nor a host State MEP can understand the complexity of the 3-way relationship of the expatriate. That is, it is difficult for them to understand what it is like being a British person living in France, or Spain etc. subject to the interplay of the laws (financial and other) of two countries, which have evolved from a pre-EU situation. In neither case have they the stimulus to discover the issues affecting the expatriate.  It is not in their ‘brief’.


If there should eventually be a referendum on changes affecting Britain’s relationship with the EU, where stands the opinion of the British expatriate in Europe?

Will they; can they; be given a fair voice?  The few, who have taken care to maintain their right to vote in the UK, will have a voice.  They will be able to vote in a referendum.

Those who left Britain more than 15 years ago will have no chance of a voice.

But will those who have a voice be heard?  Unfortunately, the tiny voices of the expatriates are not united into one big bellow.

There is no structure for the REPRESENTATION of the British people living in Europe.   The full range of pros and cons of EEA versus EU, or leaving totally, will not and cannot be adequately presented to them for their consideration.


 The B-2 The Movement for Democracy throughout the World. 


One observes - The European Commission Report on EU Citizenship  2010 deplores the lack of Representation in States like the UK of the expatriates across the Union.

Most other European Nations have created a system of Representation for their diaspora across Europe (solely Ireland, Greece, Denmark have restrictions within Europe). Some also have systems (n.b. Italy and France) to represent their citizens throughout the World.


The Arab ‘Spring’ is creating similar Representations – Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt have these in place.

The notion of representation of expatriates is spreading. Malaysian citizens have demonstrated in London on this issue, as part of a general movement for more democratic rights, including the right to self-expression, in Malaysia itself.

In short, Britain which prides itself on its democratic culture, is becoming out of kilter with the rest of the World.



Below is discussed two versions of a NEW ORDER of Representation of expatriates to the British Parliament – 1. to the House of Commons and 2. to the House of Lords



 [THE IDEAL SOLUTION?]  A elected Representative MP – Commons or Lords?

In both cases  the role is similar.

C-1  Representative MPs in the Commons or Lords for the expatriates

Expatriates in EUROPE

Let us suppose that a New System existed whereby the British Citizen in Europe could vote for an MP or a Peer who is truly representative!  An MP for Europe!

Let us examine how such an MP could function.

He would very rarely, have meetings at consulates or embassies, but the consulates could have an important role.

The consulates (or embassies) would maintain lists of registered electors. Each elector, as now, would register themselves individually.   The vast majority of expatriate electors (but not all!) are likely to have email addresses. Registration (and voting) could be done by secure internet communication.  Others could do so by post. 

The MP would try to establish voluntary contacts/spokespeople in the neighbourhood of all major towns or where concentrations exist.  The MP would visit regions where many expatriates live, though necessarily  rather sporadically.

Through these channels the MP would communicate between Whitehall, the British Government, the host Government, and even the EU.

He would be a listener in the grass for the issues affecting the expatriate and again would largely communicate via the internet.   A dialogue could be easily developed.

Possibly one expatriate MP could cover Spain and France, and another for the rest of Europe.   And they would be hard worked!


C-2– New Order continued.

The expatriates in the rest of  the World

Given their numbers, it would be necessary under this New Order that there should also be representation for these British citizens as a logical extension of the argument in favour of European citizens.


C -3 -The costs of an Electoral Campaign for expatriates  for Political Parties

It could be argued that only the two major parties could afford to lobby for expat votes.  In this world of fast email communication, this is not a major issue.  Assuming, as it must be, that lists of registered expatriate electors are centrally held, then information can be immediately sent to hundreds at almost no cost. Emailed questions can be sent in reverse to would-be MPs and answered just as easily.  Secure internet makes all possible, including voting. Local party volunteers could be asked to communicate with the relatively few other registered voters not on the internet.  This need not be onerous.


C -4 [COMMONS]  - The pros and cons of having MPs elected by expatriates in the House of Commons.

Pros (FOR)  -- It would achieve a voice for the citizen abroad within Parliament.  The MP(s) could voice the feelings gleaned via the channels above.   That would be a real achievement, and the objective of Representation would be gained.


Cons (AGAINST)  Remember that the number would be less than a handful in a total of over 600.

These are the issues.


1  It is conceivable, if unlikely, that the expatriates could alter the balance of power by changing the ‘swing’ in marginal seats. If there were one, two or even three ‘expatriate’ MPs, the effect on power politics within Parliament would be minimal.  That is surely clear.


2. The expatriate representatives might be considered as interfering in the domestic management of Britain.  This view would be mistaken.  Quite a few decisions concern the interests of some part of the expatriate population as much as the resident population.


3. The existing MPs might resist the intrusion of such ‘expatriate’ MPs.


5. The cost of employment of 1,2, or 3 MPs plus expenses could well make the notion unacceptable amongst an unthinking public,  and the popular press – at present.




Elected Representatives in the House of Lords

The pros and cons of  of having MPs elected by expatriates in the House of Lords.



1. It introduces the concept of elected peers. Is this a problem? 

2. They do not have the same power of voting as in the Commons. Is this a problem? They will have the power of debate in the amending processes, and will speak from a true knowledge.



1. They can have a good dialogue with their electorate to whom they would be fully loyal -  the electorate is their sole power source.

2. A different electoral time span to the Commons could be chosen – e.g. a fixed term of 5 or 6 years?- and this would be naturally addressed within the current programme for reform of the Lords, including the introduction of elected peers (see Cons1. above).



D- The difficulties of implementing this New Order (either Common or Lords)

1. Money.  The costs of paying for the MPs or Peers plus expenses


2. See above C-4 Cons.

The feeling that ‘expatriate’ MPs could intrude in the Commons makes the invention of Representatives in the Lords more acceptable.




1. Continue the existing order of voting for a constituency MP – with the proviso of  those expatriates who demonstrably have no recent constituency selecting one.


2. Appointing perhaps two peers as ‘counsellors’ for the expatriates. This establishes the role of true REPRESENTATION  into the parliament.

Without this second part – it is doubtful if the interest of the expatriates will be passionately roused, and the exercise may be seen as failing.


Then at some later date.

Converting the ‘counsellors’ into elected Representatives.



The conclusion as expressed at the beginning is reached.



F - The current Campaign for the Universal  life time VOTE.

That is - Life-time registration of the vote for expatriates. 

It would indeed be a step forward, a very small step forward.  However, it would cross the most important threshold of recognition of the value of the expatriates and that a new age of democratic representation is upon us.



Final comment.

The recognition of the value of the British Citizen abroad would make the expatriates feel wanted and respected. 

This would in turn reflect on the standing of Britain among the Nations.





*  note   Author Brian Cave – originator of