Marchers campaign against the UK's decision to leave the EU. Photo: AFP
Harry Shindler, who lives in Italy, and 12 other British expats questioned the legality of the Brexit referendum in 2016 because they and more than a million Britons living in the EU did not get to have their say due to the 15-year rule on voting rights for expats.
That controversial rule bars any British citizen from voting in UK elections or referendums if they have been living out of the country for more than 15 years. The UK's Conservative government has long promised to abolish the 15-year rule but failed to do so.
The French lawyers representing the Brits said that due to this fact, the European Union should not have accepted the UK’s intention to withdraw and start negotiations for leaving the bloc.
British citizens in several EU states who had been living outside the UK for more than 15 years were not allowed to vote in the referendum. The French lawyers argued that this meant the Brits were seriously affected by a vote in which they had no say.
However, the Council of the European Union opposed the application, arguing that the EU’s decision to open negotiations had not affected the applicants’ legal situation… so far.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg ruled that the case was “inadmissible, because there are no expatriates who are personally affected [by the negotiations for the UK's withdrawal from the EU] for now”.
It went on to say that the “decision to open negotiations for an agreement with the UK … does not directly affect the legal situation of the applicants”.
The court said that “it is therefore only at the end of the Article 50 procedure that the rights of the applicants are liable to be affected”.