More than one million immigrants will have the right to vote in the General Election – despite not being British citizens.
New arrivals from Commonwealth countries – including Australia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nigeria – automatically acquire voting rights on arrival in the UK even if they are only staying for a short time.
Research by the MigrationWatch campaign group estimates that by the time of the 2015 poll, more than one million Commonwealth citizens will be allowed to vote despite not having a British passport.
Even a student on a six month visa has exactly the same voting rights as long-term residents, as long as they have an address, the research shows.
By contrast, the countries where they come from do not offer the same rights to Britons living there.
Sir Andrew Green, the group’s chairman, said the rules were an ‘anachronism’ from the days of Empire and should be scrapped.
He warned they could have a significant impact on the result of the election.
Sir Andrew said: ‘If the next election is close, and especially if there is a coalition negotiation, the number of seats gained by each party will be critical, so the outcome could be significantly influenced by a group of people who have not yet qualified to become British citizens or have not even bothered to do so.
‘One example is that a student visitor from a Commonwealth country planning to study for six months would be allowed to enrol on the electoral register and vote in a parliamentary election if one was held during the duration of his or her stay.’
‘This is clearly absurd. The issue is one of basic fairness. If people want to participate in deciding the future of our country they should at least become citizens.’
Official figures suggest that in 2011 there were 960,000 Commonwealth citizens living in England and Wales.
They include 266,000 Indian nationals, 130,000 Pakistani nationals, more than 51,000 South Africans, 60,000 Australians, 51,000 Bangladeshis and 37,000 Sri Lankans.
There are also tens of thousands from Zimbabwe, Canada and Ghana.
Apart from a few Caribbean states, British citizens do not have similar rights in Commonwealth countries.
If the turnout is close to the national average, this could amount to more than half a million votes from non-citizens.
In 2007 a review by the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, called for the rules to be scrapped, and for the Government to make a ‘clear connection between citizenship and the right to vote’.
The review concluded ‘Ultimately, it is right in principle not to give the right to vote to citizens of other countries living in the UK until they become British citizens.’ However, its conclusions were never acted upon.
Sir Andrew said: ‘The public will be astonished to learn that nearly a million foreign citizens from countries that do not allow British residents to vote in their countries are, nevertheless, allowed to vote in all British elections.
‘This is a hangover from the days of Empire and should not have been allowed to continue, especially given the rapid increase in immigration from Commonwealth countries.’
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