In its 2010 report Global Brit: Making the most of the British Diaspora the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) challenges what it calls “some of the rather lazy and rather offensive assumptions that still exist about the nature and outlook ” of the British disapora, which represents one of the biggest of any nationality and a great potential asset in a globalised world.
Given the numbers involved – 5.6 million British citizens living overseas, another half a million spending part of the year abroad, and some 57 million with a link to the country through passport eligibility or ancestry – it is suggested that the UK government should be taking a lot more interest in what is known as “diapora engagement”.
The UK government could also learn a lot from other countries that have been engaging with their diasporas for many years. Many other countries take a much more positive view of their citizens abroad and the report shows how a lot can be learned from the strategies of other governments.
This lack of “diaspora engagement” by the British government is also perhaps reflected in the fact that, despite millions of British citizens overseas still retaining the right to vote for up to 15 years, levels of voting in General Elections are very low. As far as such voting is concerned, the IPPR report recommends that the government should simplify the process of registering and voting in UK and European elections.
It is also recommended that the government should allow voting in elections for devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, in recognition of the multi-national aspects of the diaspora for which, in some cases, these national identifications are stronger than a generic British one. This multi-national diaspora is in addition increasingly multi-ethnic, including many British citizens born in the country in which they now reside.
To more effectively represent the above citizens, the report recommends that there should be a clearly identified Minister with responsibility for diaspora affairs who should have a regular question time slot in the House of Commons.