MPs voted today against lowering the voting age for the referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union, blocking a move by the House of Lords that was expected to bolster the campaign to stay in the EU.
In a 303-253 vote, MPs rejected peers’ proposal to include 16- and 17-year-olds in the in/out vote. The current minimum voting age for national elections is 18.
Pro-European groups had backed lowering the voting age, as recent polling figures have shown that younger voters are more likely to vote for Britain to “remain” in the EU.
Both Labour and the SNP criticised the Conservatives over today’s vote.
Hilary Benn, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said: “It is wrong-headed and unfair for the Tories to deny young adults a say in the European referendum.”
“Labour understands that this is about their future too and the rights they currently enjoy to live, work and study anywhere in the EU will be affected by the result,” Benn added. “David Cameron should make sure the voices or 16 and 17-year olds are heard and not excluded from this once in a generation decision.”
Stephen Gethins, the SNP’s European Affairs spokesperson said the vote marked a missed opportunity.
"The SNP has always argued that the EU referendum should meet the gold standard set by Scotland’s independence referendum, where 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote and participate in such an important democratic decision for the first time – and which was shown to be a fantastic success,” Gethins said. “It would have been completely appropriate for that model to have been repeated for the EU vote.”
Speaking ahead of the vote, Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said including 16 and 17-year-olds in the Scottish referendum had been a “great success”.
”In the independence referendum, 75 per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds voted and 97 per cent said they would do so in the future. They accessed more information than any other age group, and registered in their thousands,” Ghose said.
“With 16 and 17-year-olds getting the vote in Scotland and potentially Wales too, it would be insulting to the 1.5m 16 and 17-year-olds across the UK for the government to deny them the vote in this crucial referendum.”