British expats lose legal challenge for right to vote in Brexit referendum

British citizens who have lived in other EU countries for more than 15 years are barred from voting on 23 June

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File photo dated 20/4/2016 of Jacquelyn MacLennan. Image: Nick Ansell / PA Wire/Press Association Images

British expats have lost their legal challenge for the right to vote in the referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

The appeal had been brought by 95-year-old World War Two veteran Harry Shindler, who has lived in Italy for 35 years, and lawyer Jacquelyn MacLennan, 54, from Inverness, who has lived in Belgium since 1987.

They were seeking to overturn a ruling by the High Court in London, which upheld the British government’s decision to bar British citizens who have lived in other EU countries for more than 15 years from voting on 23 June.

But judges at the Court of Appeal declared the rule did not unlawfully interfere with the right of expats to freedom of movement within the EU.

Lawyers for the pair said the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, had already agreed to hear the case next Tuesday, in an 11th-hour bid to secure the vote.

Responding to the appeal court judgment, Mr Shindler, who is still a UK taxpayer, said: "I am still waiting for the government to tell us why British citizens in Europe can't vote in this referendum.

"The government had agreed to scrap the 15-year rule before the Referendum Bill was passed, agreeing it was arbitrary and undemocratic."

The latest ruling is a blow to many expats, fearful that a vote for Brexit would threaten their status as EU citizens.

The courts had been told "a very substantial number" of the estimated two million Britons living and working in other EU countries are affected by the voting bar.

Lawyers for the claimants had argued the 15-year rule prevented many expats from taking part in a democratic process which could deny them the very EU rights on which they relied in their everyday lives.

Ms MacLennan said she was "disappointed" at the judgment.

She added: "I hope the Supreme Court will agree that the 15-year rule is wrong and unlawful in the context of the EU referendum.

"Brexit would have a huge impact on my personal and professional life. Excluding two million citizens like me from voting - as the government recognises - is unjust and unfair."