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David Cameron urged to give teenagers vote on EU membership

By Joe Churcher and David Hughes

Published 26/05/2015

Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron

David Cameron has faced pressure to hand 16 and 17-year-olds a referendum vote as he began his push to secure enough change to Britain's relations with Brussels to persuade voters to back continued EU membership.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was due to arrive in the UK last night for initial talks over Mr Cameron's broad aims for reform ahead of a whirlwind tour by the PM of European capitals.

But the announcement that the in/out vote - promised by the end of 2017 - would be run using the same franchise as for general elections provoked a mixed response.

The effective exclusion of most UK-resident EU citizens from the decision was broadly welcomed but there was condemnation of the failure to follow Scotland's much-applauded independence referendum move to allow votes at 16.

Labour said it was a "matter of principle" that those old enough to pay tax, marry and join the armed forces should not be voiceless in such an important decision and said it would table an amendment to extend the franchise.

Questions were also raised over why expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years would not be given a say, despite the Tory manifesto promising to axe the time limit in favour of "votes for life".

An EU Referendum Bill, to be introduced to Parliament on Thursday, will make clear the franchise will be based on that for a general election, plus members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar.

Irish, Maltese and Cypriots resident in the UK will get a vote, but other EU citizens will not.

Eurosceptics had claimed that as many as 1.5 million people from other EU countries could have been allowed to vote in the plebiscite if it had taken place under the rules for local government elections, in which citizens of other member states can participate.

Conservative MP John Redwood said it was a "myth" young people were interested in the issue and accused pro-Europeans of seeking to "hijack" the referendum to bring in voting reforms to help their cause.

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