Most of the 2.8 million citizens of other EU countries residing in the UK would find themselves disenfranchised when the country votes on membership in the bloc. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who has promised to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties ahead of the vote by the end of 2017, will embark on a tour of five European capitals later this week to hold talks with key counterparts over his reform plans.
The Tory leader also addressed the issue at an EU summit in Latvia last week. He plans to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday.
Polls would open to voters who normally weigh in on national elections. Rules used for European Parliament and local council elections give a say to citizens of other EU nations. Many of them want the right to vote on something as material to their future as bloc membership.
Cameron’s plan does allow Irish and Commonwealth citizens to vote if registered. That means British, Irish, Maltese, Cypriot and other Commonwealth citizens aged over 18 and resident in the UK, as well as nationals who have lived overseas for less than 15 years may vote, but no other EU nationals.
Labour had opposed the referendum, warning of potential economic uncertainty. However, under interim leadership on Sunday, the party announced that it now supported the referendum.
“The British people want to have a say on the UK’s membership of the European Union,” the party’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, and foreign affairs spokesman, Hilary Benn, told the Sunday Times. “Labour will therefore now support the EU referendum bill,” they said, adding that they wanted “reform in Europe – on benefits and the way the EU works.” They added: “The Labour Party doesn’t want to see the UK stumble inadvertently towards EU exit. We will make the case for our continued membership.”
The euroskeptic UK Independence Party pushed Britain’s 2015 elections to the right, with even centrist Labour officials making tough statements about migrants. Cameron’s Conservative Party came out of the general elections earlier this month with an absolute majority in Parliament. The prime minister has said he will support continued membership as long as he can negotiate a series of reforms, including limiting access to Britain’s welfare system for migrants from other EU countries.