The vote to leave the EU was fundamentally undemocratic. Theresa May’s clear determination to plough ahead with Brexit therefore compounds an act of injustice that reveals a basic flaw at the heart of Britain’s electoral system. If this seems a provocative opening salvo for a radical cosmopolitan polemic, you may be surprised by the current distribution of voting rights in the UK.
Most people assume that the electoral franchise is directly linked to citizenship. But citizenship status does not (and should not) determine who has the right to vote. Citizens from the Republic of Ireland and from Commonwealth countries who are living in the UK are allowed to vote in general and local elections. They were also permitted to vote in the recent EU referendum. By contrast, EU citizens living in the UK are permitted to vote in local but not national elections and were also excluded from the referendum. Immigrants from other countries outside of the Commonwealth or EU have no voting rights at all. A peculiar consequence of this arrangement is that some EU citizens could in fact vote in the recent referendum: those from Ireland as well as those from Malta and Cyprus.