In December 2018, there were more than 1.9 million EU citizens on the electoral registers in England and Wales. This represents 4.5% of all voters there. In Scotland, there were 132,800 (3.2% of the total electorate). This Insight looks at what elections these people can vote in, where they are registered, and how Brexit affects their voting rights.

Which elections can EU citizens vote in?

EU citizens are entitled to vote in some elections in the UK. This includes local government and European Parliament elections, as well as elections for the National Assembly of Wales and the Scottish Parliament. This means that, once an EU citizen registers to vote in the UK, local Returning Officers add them to the relevant registers.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) does not routinely produce figures on the number of EU citizens on the electoral registers. However, it recently published a dataset showing the number of EU citizens on the registers in December 2018. This number excludes UK, Irish, Cypriot and Maltese citizens, who can vote in general elections too (the latter two as Commonwealth citizens).

Where are EU voters based?

The map below shows the proportion of EU citizens registered to vote out of the total number of registered voters, by local authority, in England and Wales.

A map showing where EU citizens are registered to vote in England and Wales.

The highest proportion of EU voters was found in the London borough of Brent (18.4%), followed by Kensington and Chelsea (17.6%) and Newham (16.6%). The local authority with the highest number of EU voters outside of London was Boston, in Lincolnshire (14.8%).

The lowest proportion of EU voters was in Redcar and Cleveland (0.4%) in North Yorkshire, followed by South Staffordshire (0.5%) and Isle of Anglesey (0.5%), in Wales.

It’s important to note that local authorities have different registration practices which may result in different registration rates, even where the population of EU citizens is similar in size.  

How will Brexit affect EU citizens’ voting rights?

Reciprocal voting rights for EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU, did not form part of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiations under Theresa May. The UK intends to agree reciprocal arrangements with EU Member States on a one-by-one basis. So far, such agreements have been reached with Spain, Luxembourg and Portugal.

Irish citizens resident in the UK can vote in all elections and will be unaffected by Brexit. This is part of an existing reciprocal arrangement between Ireland and the UK, as a result of historical ties. Maltese and Cypriot citizens similarly enjoy voting rights on the basis of their status as Commonwealth citizens.

Existing legislation will need to be amended to remove voting (and candidacy) rights from EU citizens for local elections after Brexit. If this does not happen before the May 2020 local elections, the Cabinet Office would be expected to make an announcement to clarify that EU citizens can still stand and vote in them .

The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are responsible for their own franchise. Their intention is to allow EU citizens legally resident in Scotland or Wales to vote in the next round of local and devolved elections.

Further reading

About the authors: Elise Uberoi is a researcher specialising in social and general statistics and Neil Johnston is an election specialist at the House of Commons Library.