David Cameron, the British prime minister, has come under pressure to reduce the age of eligibility to vote in the referendum on EU membership to 16, as he began in earnest a push to secure sufficient change to Britain’s relations with Brussels to persuade voters to back continued membership.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker arrived in the UK last evening for initial talks over Cameron’s broad aims for reform — ahead of Cameron’s whirlwind tour of European capitals.
However, the announcement that the in/out vote — promised by the end of 2017 — would be run using the same franchise as for general elections provoked a mixed response. The effective exclusion of most UK-resident EU citizens was broadly welcomed but there was condemnation of the failure to follow Scotland’s independence referendum move to allow votes at 16.
Labour said it was a “matter of principle” that those old enough to pay tax, marry, and join the armed forces should not be voiceless in such an important national decision and said it would table an amendment to extend the franchise.
Questions were also raised over why expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years would not be given a say, despite the Conservative manifesto promising to axe the time limit in favour of “votes for life”.
An EU referendum bill, to be introduced to parliament on Thursday, the day after Queen Elizabeth’s speech, will make clear that the franchise will be based on that for a general election, plus members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar.
Irish, Maltese, and Cypriots resident in the UK will get a vote, but other EU citizens will not.
Eurosceptics had claimed that as many as 1.5m people from other EU countries could have been allowed to vote in the plebiscite if it had taken place under the rules for local government elections, in which citizens of other member states can participate.
Details were revealed as Cameron prepared to welcome Juncker — whose election to the EU’s top job last year he publicly fought — to his official country residence Chequers.
On Thursday, Cameron will fly to Denmark, before travelling to Holland and France.
He hopes to talk to all 27 leaders of EU states before the European Council summit in June.
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