In a strongly-worded letter, the Cabinet minister challenged Labour’s leader to respond to the charge that the policy would ‘rig’ future elections.
He said Sir Keir was seeking to ‘downgrade the ultimate privilege of British citizenship’ by letting migrants help decide who runs the UK.
Mr Gove also accused him of hypocrisy for planning to lower the voting age to 16 despite having argued only recently that adulthood should begin at 18 when it came to changing gender.
And he pointed out that the last Labour government increased to 18 the legal age for everything from buying cigarettes to leaving school.
The Cabinet minister challenged Labour’s leader to respond to the charge that the policy would ‘rig’ future elections (pictured on May 2)
In a strongly-worded letter, the Cabinet minister challenged Labour’s leader (pictured) to respond to the charge that the policy would ‘rig’ future elections.
Sir Keir yesterday defended the idea of giving EU nationals and 16-year-olds the vote and rejected Tory warnings that this would pave the way to rejoining the EU.
In his letter to the Labour leader, Levelling Up Secretary Mr Gove asked: ‘Why do you think it’s right to downgrade the ultimate privilege of British citizenship – the right to vote in a general election?
‘What do you say to those who say that your approach is designed to undermine Brexit – and ‘rig’ the voting system for national elections and referendums?
‘Is it still your view that the ‘age of adulthood in most cases’ is 18, or is this another area where you have changed your approach?’
The minister’s intervention came after it emerged at the weekend that Labour’s next manifesto could promise to hand the vote to an estimated 3.4million EU citizens who have lived and paid taxes in Britain for a long time, along with 1.4million 16- and 17-year-olds.
After senior Tories lined up to accuse Sir Keir of a cynical plot to secure a majority from people who are more likely to vote Labour, he was put on the spot about the policy yesterday morning.
He told LBC radio it was ‘common sense’ that people who had lived in the UK for decades should be allowed to choose their MP, even though British expats do not get to vote overseas.
‘Let’s just take someone who’s been here for 30 years, has literally put down their roots here, as I say, married to a Brit, their kids are here. This is their country, this is where they live, this is where they contribute,’ he said. ‘It’s very hard to say ‘Well, you should really be voting back in your country of origin’ when you’ve been living here for 30 years. That just doesn’t pass the common sense test for me.’
Asked why under-18s should be allowed to vote when they cannot legally smoke, drink or get married, Sir Keir replied: ‘They can have babies, they can work, they can join the Army.
‘So there are big things you can do at 16 and 17. And again, it’s not such an outlandish idea. In Wales, it already happens. In Scotland, it already happens. There’s a big policymaking forum and these are some of the ideas that are going into the mix. But they’re not policy, we’re just looking at them.’
Sir Keir told LBC radio it was ‘common sense’ that people who had lived in the UK for decades should be allowed to choose their MP
Asked if that would include scrapping first-past-the-post in favour of proportional representation Sir Keir replied with ‘not really’. He refused seven times to say whether he would seek such a deal with the Lib Dems to secure their support.
‘An incoming Labour government needs to be laser-focused on fixing the things that need fixing and PR isn’t one of my priorities,’ he said.
Sir Keir also insisted his ideas for electoral reform were not linked to a desire to rejoin the EU.
‘I don’t know how many times I’ve said there’s no case for going back in. We’re going to make Brexit work. And that is our absolutely firm position,’ he told LBC. But Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson warned: ‘Be in no doubt what this will lead to. A second referendum and then grovelling to rejoin the EU.’
Tory backbencher Brendan Clarke-Smith said: ‘Whilst I welcome people who have settled in this country and made a contribution to British society to apply for full citizenship, I think it is wrong to grant the right to vote in national elections until they have done so.’
The voting age for parliamentary polls was lowered to 18 from 21 in 1969, although Scotland and Wales have reduced it to 16 for local polls.
British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens can vote for MPs while EU citizens who were living in the UK before the end of 2020 can take part in council elections.