The UK decides? Non-British voters could swing Brexit referendum

© Toby Melville
Half a million European immigrants are eligible to vote in Britain’s June 23 referendum on whether the UK should leave or remain in the EU. With polls suggesting the vote is on a knife-edge, their ballots could prove decisive.

Some 470,000 Irish, Maltese and Cyprus-born British residents will be able to vote in June’s historic referendum, despite the majority of EU nationals being barred from participating.

With opinion polls showing the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ camps almost neck-and-neck, this significant group of non-UK citizens could decide the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU.

Parliamentary franchise in the UK allows citizens of the Republic of Ireland and Commonwealth countries – such as Malta and Cyprus – to vote in general elections and referendums.

The government cites Britain’s “historical ties” as the reason behind this legal loophole.

Prime Minister David Cameron declared in February that the upcoming vote will be a “once in a generation” decision.

Given the importance of the referendum, it has proven highly controversial to allow citizens of Malta, Cyprus and the Republic of Ireland to vote.

Lord Green of Deddington, who is chairman of MigrantWatch, said last October: “This referendum will be of huge importance to the future of our country. It is essential that the outcome should be beyond reproach, especially if the vote is close.

The aim, in a nutshell, is to ensure that the future of Britain is decided only by those who are British citizens. The issue is not the precise numbers involved, nor how they might vote. The real issue is surely one of principle.”

According to data published by the Office of National Statistics last August, there are 383,000 Irish citizens resident in the UK, in addition to 27,000 Maltese citizens and 60,000 Greek-Cypriots.

The latest opinion poll, published by ComRes for the Sun on Monday, shows the ‘Remain’ campaign has 45 percent support compared to the ‘Leave’ campaign’s 38 percent.

However, the split is much closer when the averages from recent polls are calculated.

A website run by the National Centre for Social Research shows the average result from opinion polls conducted between April 6 and 14 puts the ‘Remain’ campaign at 51 percent and the ‘Leave’ campaign at 49 percent.

WhatUKThinks.org analyzed surveys from a range of pollsters including YouGov, ComRes, Ipsos Mori, and ICM.

If the referendum in June is as tight as pollsters predict, it could bring the role of non-UK voters into the spotlight, as it is likely their input will determine the future of Britain’s EU membership.