Campaigners have called on the Westminster political parties to allow MPs a free vote on allowing 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in the forthcoming EU referendum.
The government has announced that MPs will be able to vote on whether 16 and 17 year-olds should be given the vote in the upcoming referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
But campaigners have called on the political parties to make sure that this is a free vote – meaning that individual MPs are able to vote according to their own opinion.
David Cameron announced yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions that MPs will be able to vote on the issue, but he said that the Tories were against allowing 16 and 17 year-olds to take part in the referendum.
He told the house, “I believe we should stick with the current franchise of 18, but I think the House of Commons should vote.”
On certain issues, parties are told by their party whips how to cast their ballot in vital votes that are usually contentious and politically divisive between the Westminster parties. But campaigners have said that this should not be the case.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), said, “We hope that the government will make it a free vote – this is an issue many MPs and constituents feel very strongly about, and there should be an open debate on this issue.”
“The Prime Minister suggested it would be a conscience vote earlier in the year, and we hope he sticks to this.”
“This referendum is a real opportunity to give 16 and 17 year olds a chance to decide on an issue which really affects them – covering housing, our environment, jobs, migration and a whole host of pressing topics which matter to young people.”
In last year’s Scottish independence referendum, 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote on their country’s future, with 75% of those eligible taking part and 97% saying they would take part in future elections.
Ghose added, “Hundreds of thousands more young people are set to be given the franchise for local and nationwide elections in Wales and Scotland. It would be absurd if those same young people were denied a vote in the upcoming EU referendum. But it would also be an injustice if they were given votes at 16 and not the million or more others across the UK.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant told Blue & Green Tomorrow that the government should extend the vote to 16 and 17 year olds. He said, “Young people have the biggest stake of all in the future of this country. They can marry, they pay income tax, they should be allowed to vote in general elections and in the referendum. And if that meant schools took citizenship more seriously, so much the better.”
Image: UK Parliament via Flickr
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