PATTAYA, Thailand – At their January 24 meeting, the Pattaya City Expats Club (PCEC) welcomed Bruce Darrington, Chairman of the British Overseas Voters Forum (BOVF). His message was “Expats Unite!” noting that recent changes in the UK voting rights offers British Expats the opportunity to band together to obtain political influence to get changes made in UK government policies that have an impact on their lives. He also noted that this British initiative could serve as an inspiration and a model for other nationality Expats to get organized and effect change?
Bruce is a UK Chartered Accountant spending much of his career in Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and Thailand). In 2019, he returned to Thailand to perform a regional role for Mazars (an International Accounting Firm), finally retiring at the end of 2021. Bruce began by explaining the changes that occurred on January 16 of this year to UK election laws. He noted that it is now the time for British Expats overseas to organize so they can have a real influence on British lawmakers, which is the goal of the BOVF. These changes include extending the right to vote to British Citizens outside the UK who have once lived in the UK; increasing the number of permissible donors to political parties; and removal of the 15-year limit on voting rights, creating “votes for life.”
After giving a history of how UK election laws were changed in1985, 1989, 2000, and 2022, Bruce then went into a more detailed explanation of all the 2024 changes. He then gave several reasons why British overseas citizens should have the ability to vote. Bruce noted that there were 5.6 million UK citizens living overseas which will represent 7% of the UK voting population. This he pointed out will allow, if all those eligible to vote register, to influence political elections. But to do so, it is necessary they unite so that together they have a real chance of getting changes made that will be to their benefit.
Bruce then highlighted some of the logistical challenges overseas expats face in voting including international postal systems may not deliver the ballot in time, local authorities can only send out ballots after candidate nominations close, potential 3-week period to print, post, return and receive ballots. He then mentioned how proxy voting can helps solve these challenges and explained the current process for such voting.
He then went into detail on why there is a need for British Expats to unite and how collective action can result in changes. Bruce provided a list of key issues that need to be addressed and explained why they were unfair and in need of change noting the position being taken by his BOVF organization on these issues.
The first mentioned was frozen pensions which is a very contentious issue for most UK Expat pensioners because they are not provided with annual adjustments to increase the amount unlike those residing in the UK and in certain select countries. Thus their pensions remain static even though they also experience increases in their cost of living.
The second was UK bank accounts being closed when people move overseas. Bruce explained why it is essential for British Citizens overseas to maintain a bank account in the UK as it may be needed for paying UK taxes on UK income, receiving a UK pension and other income, renting out a UK property and needing to deposit the rents and pay related expenses, supporting children that may be attending school/university in the UK, etc..
The third is the recent imposition of arbitrary income rules to obtain visas for a non-UK spouse. Bruce noted that British Nationals previously needed to show an income available in the UK of £18,600 plus £3,800 for the first child and £2,400 per child after that. This, he said is now being dramatically increased to £29,000 and eventually £38,700. His organization believes that any legitimate concerns of the British Government need to be addressed and a way found to allow UK Citizens to live with their Foreign National Partner in the UK.
He notes that now is a precious opportunity to move quickly before the next General Election. It offers an opportunity for UK Expats, not only in Thailand, but from countries all over the world a real chance to effect change in UK Government policies to their benefit. He then went into the various ways this can be done, but it does require British Expats to unite in the effort.
Bruce then showed several slides showing the different rules and requirements of many countries followed by mentioning possible solutions including allowing Embassies to distribute and collect votes (other countries such as Thailand and France do this), overseas voters to vote electronically (or simply receive a ballot digitally), and Overseas voters to register in designated overseas constituencies (New Europeans UK and Unlock Democracy are teaming up to launch a campaign to push for the introduction of MPs for overseas UK parliamentary constituencies to represent Brits living abroad). Bruce then described how this could be done and its potential impact.
In conclusion, he spoke about his organization, BOVF, and what it is doing. He noted that individual action alone will not succeed because: MPs do not respond or listen to voters one by one in their Constituencies and they only listen to groups of voters who club together. Thus, British Expats need to create Villages of Overseas Voters in as many Constituencies as possible backed up by a professional lobbying campaign. Bruce believes it is their only chance to have sufficient influence to get changes made.
Consequently, they are (1) trying to persuade as many UK Citizens Overseas to register to vote as possible; (2) Define the most Important Issues for Overseas Voters with Frozen Pensions being a key issue; (3) Accumulating a list of as many Members and Supporters as possible Constituency By Constituency; (4) Running a professional lobbying campaign, both at Political Party level and also Constituency By Constituency (but targeting Marginal Seats) to ensure that candidates know that their overseas voters are coordinated and that they need to commit on key issues to get their vote; and (5) Coordinating this lobbying with other Interested groups such as British Pensioners in Australia and Canada in order to maximize “our voice.”
To do this, he mentioned what they need in each country where British Expats reside including: An Active Committee with a reasonable number of members, public meetings and active social media contributions, a list of as many Supporters as possible with their UK Postcode, discussions and formulation of views on key issues affecting Overseas Voters, and a “Registration Campaign” to ensure as many potential voters register as possible.
To view a video of Bruce’s presentation, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_76KqCGVEw&t=14s. To go to a link for the BOVF and to view his presentation slides, visit: https://pcec.club/page-18321.
After the presentation, MC Ren Lexander brought everyone up to date on upcoming events and called on George Wilson to conduct the Open Forum portion of the meeting where the audience can ask questions or make comments about Expat living in Thailand, especially Pattaya. To learn more about the PCEC, visit their website at https:/pcec.club.