9th Aug 2022

Lords back vote for 16 and 17-year olds in UK referendum

  • Tory party has vowed to overturn the decision in lower house (Photo: parliament.uk)

The House of Lords has backed giving 16 and 17-year olds the right to vote in the UK’s referendum on EU membership.

Peers, mostly from the opposition Labour and Liberal parties, backed the decision by 293 against 211 on Wednesday (18 November).

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With surveys indicating that young people are more EU-friendly, the move was welcomed by politicians hostile to a British EU exit.

Hilary Benn, Labour’s shadow foreign minister, told the BBC: “Young adults should be able to have their say in the European referendum; after all it is about their future too.”

Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal party, noted: “This is a victory for democracy. We are giving over a million people a voice on their future. The government must now listen and act. David Cameron cannot turn his back on 1.5 million young adults.”

But the ruling Conservative party of PM David Cameron vowed to overturn it in the House of Commons.

“The House of Commons has voted on three occasions in recent months against dropping the voting age from 18 - including overturning a Lords amendment just yesterday … The government will re-affirm this clear position when the bill returns to the elected chamber [the Commons],” John Penrose, a Tory junior minister, said.

Lord Faulks, the Tory justice minister, noted: “We fear changing the franchise, including this particular change, could … seriously undermine the legitimacy of the referendum.”

The eurosceptic Ukip party also criticised Wednesday’s decision.

“Young people in Britain are no fools, but those below the age of 18 do not have to pay taxes, while being subject to huge amounts of pro-EU propaganda in educational establishments,” Joe Jenkins, the head of the party’s youth wing, told press.

British officials in recent weeks briefed EU counterparts that Cameron favours a June 2016 date for the EU vote, which is due, by law, before the end of 2017.

But UK pundits warn that if the referendum bill becomes subject to a tug-of-war between the two houses of parliament it could delay the event until autumn next year.

The British electoral commission would also need extra time to register and process young voters.

For his part, EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said in a speech in Brussels the same day he is confident of a positive UK outcome.

“Brexit is not going to happen … I have just spent three years avoiding Grexit, I am not going to spend three years of my life facilitating Brexit,” the Luxembourg politician noted.

The bad news for Ukip also comes amid a sharp dip in financial donations to the party.

According to British public records, the party received just £49,334 (€70,445) between 1 July and 30 September, following its disappointing performance in May general elections.

The figure represents a five-year low and is far smaller than the £2.2million it got in the three months prior to July.

According to a study by King’s College in London there are 1,534,192 voters aged 16 and 17 in the UK.

A recent survey by pollster ICM said 53 percent of 18 to 34-year olds want Britain to stay in the EU, compared to 39 percent in the 55 or above age group.

Britain already lowered the voting age for the Scottish referendum last year.

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