In local elections in the UK, Commonwealth, Irish and EU citizens can vote. Why is this the case?

Moreover, why are Commonwealth and Irish citizens allowed to vote in general elections and referenda, but not (non-Irish) EU citizens?

Source: https://www.gov.uk/browse/citizenship/voting

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    Related: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/19673/… Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 13:26
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    Note that Irish citizens are EU citizens. Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 22:08
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    @ReinstateMonica-M.Schröder, that's true, but they have rights that EU citizens do not (such as the right to vote in GEs and referenda). Also, FOM will continue for them post-Brexit, without any uncertainty. Hence the distinction.
    – Student
    Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 5:53

1 Answer 1


Like most of the weirdnesses of the UK political system, it's this way because it was setup a hundred or more years ago and nobody bothered to fix it. In this case, it's the legacy of the Commonwealth and Ireland being in the British Empire.

Per wikipedia:

The right of Commonwealth and Irish citizens to vote is a legacy of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which limited the vote to British subjects.


The British Nationality Act 1948 redefined British subject as any citizen of the United Kingdom, its colonies, or other Commonwealth countries. Commonwealth citizen was also defined in this Act to have the same meaning

British subjects used to have the right of "free movement" to come and reside in the UK. This was how the Windrush immigrants came to be, and why they generally don't have any immigration-related paperwork; when they came to the UK they needed no more paperwork than someone moving from Manchester to London to find work.

This was ended by the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968. But that didn't change voting rights; perhaps disenfranchising a lot of people was too controversial.

There is still a "Common Travel Area" between the UK and Ireland, as part of the settlement of Ireland's independence in 1922.

As for the right of EU nationals to vote in local elections, that's part of Maastricht.

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    It's worth noting that post-Good Friday agreement allowing many of those born in Northern Ireland free choice of either citizenship or both, disenfranchising Irish citizens would be fairly provocative to a lot of people.
    – origimbo
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 14:24
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    The common travel area is not directly responsible for the fact that Irish citizens can vote in the UK. It's more of a similar manifestation of the complex history the two countries share.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 20:53

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