Keir Starmer defied anger over an attempt to ‘rig’ elections today, insisting it is ‘common sense’ to entitle millions of EU citizens to vote.
The Labor leader said it “feels wrong” that Europeans who have settled in Britain cannot elect MPs – even though Britons have no similar rights on the continent.
He also hinted that he would lower the voting age from 18 to 16, saying on an LBC phone call that it was “not such a crazy idea.”
Sir Keir even stopped to completely rule out abolishing the first-past-the-post system in favor of PR, something critics fear would put power in the hands of smaller parties and weaken the link between politicians and constituencies would break.
He just said that was “not a priority.”
Keir Starmer hinted he would lower the voting age from 18 to 16, saying on an LBC phone call it was “not such a crazy idea”
Sir Keir stressed that it is ‘common sense’ to give millions of EU citizens the right to vote
Sir Keir said it does not pass the ‘common sense test’ that established migrants who have worked in the UK for decades do not have full voting rights.
Referring to EU migrants who have lived and worked in Britain for long periods, the Labor leader said “it feels wrong and something needs to be done about it”.
“These are some of the ideas that go into the mix, but they’re not policy — we’re just looking at them,” he added.
Labor MPs have defended the plans, saying the opposition wants to ‘strengthen our democracy’.
But ministers pointed out that expats do not have the right to vote in EU country polls and said the changes would harm UK citizenship status.
They accused Sir Keir of wanting to ‘sneak Britain back into the EU’ and to guarantee Labor a majority in a general election.
Some MPs fear that a Labor government backed by the Liberal Democrats or the Scottish National Party would also introduce proportional representation (PR) and hold a new independence referendum in Scotland.
Polling experts pointed out that young people and migrants are much more likely to vote Labor than Conservative, and that the Tories movements, including Boris Johnson, could lose their remaining seats in London.
Tory chairman Greg Hands said: ‘Labour’s plan to give foreigners the right to vote in parliamentary elections lays the groundwork for surreptitiously dragging the UK back into the EU.
Sir Keir has spent years trying to block Brexit and overthrow the largest democratic vote in this country’s history. This is an attempt to manipulate the electorate into rejoining the EU.”
He added: ‘The right to vote in parliamentary elections and to elect the next British government is rightly restricted to British citizens and those who have the closest historical ties to our country. In no other EU country are EU citizens who are not their nationals allowed to vote in parliamentary elections.’
Tory MP Henry Smith, who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Mail: “This is clearly an attempt by Labor if they come to power to rig future elections by extending voting to 16 and 17 year-olds, as all evidence shows, until they start paying taxes, that age group tends to vote Labour.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, Labor would also give the right to vote to around 3.4 million EU nationals who have lived permanently in the UK and have paid taxes here for a number of years. Pictured: Sir Keir at an anti-Brexit protest in 2019
“What is more concerning is the extension of the franchise to EU citizens. If it were a Labor government backed by the Liberal Democrats or the SNP, we would push for PR and probably a second referendum on Scottish independence. It’s a cynical attempt by the Labor Party to gain electoral advantage rather than address the issues people care about, and I hope people see through that.’
The voting age for parliamentary elections was lowered from 21 in 1969 to 18, although devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have reduced it to 16 for local polls.
And British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens can vote for MPs, while EU citizens living in the UK since the end of 2020 can take part in local elections.
But Labour’s manifesto for the general election will include a long-standing pledge to lower the voting age to 16, giving an estimated 1.4 million young people the right to vote.
Labor could also give the voice to around 3.4 million EU nationals who have lived permanently in the UK and have paid taxes here for a number of years.
Another 2.6 million with pre-settled status who have lived here for less than five years could eventually be taken in.
Sources at Conservative headquarters said the policy could mean citizens of countries that have yet to join the EU could one day vote in the UK.
An insider said: ‘Keir Starmer wants to downgrade British citizenship status by giving the vote to foreign children. There are currently eight countries recognized as candidates to join the EU, so over time Serbs, Moldovans, Bosnians and Albanians would have the same rights as British citizens to decide who sits in government.’
Analysis suggests that EU citizens who have lived in the UK for a long time live mainly in London and the South East, and if they voted, Labor’s predominance in cities would increase.
Leading polling expert Sir John Curtice said: ‘London is already so overwhelmingly Labor – there are still some Tory constituencies left, but not that many, and they will be mostly at stake.’
A large surge in Labor voters could see Boris Johnson lose his seat in west London, as well as fellow former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith in the east of the capital.
Sir Keir is reportedly opposed to proportional representation, the system where people vote for parties rather than individual candidates and where seats are distributed according to the total number of votes cast.
But as opinion polls suggest Labor may not win an outright majority, many in Westminster believe the Lib Dems could push for its introduction as a price for their support in a coalition government.