Angry and alienated: How Britons in Italy feel at being denied a vote in the UK general election

British citizens living in Italy told The Local of their anger at being denied a vote in the upcoming UK general election, saying they felt like “third-class citizens” or “refugees” with “no voice” and “no country”.

Angry and alienated: How Britons in Italy feel at being denied a vote in the UK general election
When the votes are counted on December 12th, many Brits living abroad will not have a voice. Photo: AFP

Elections are looming in the UK and the political discourse is dominated by Brexit. But many of the people who would be most directly affected by Britain leaving the EU will have no say in the election, just as many had no say in the crucial Brexit referendum in 2016.

The British government currently denies the vote to anyone who has lived out of the country for more than 15 years, meaning that thousands of Brits living in Italy or elsewhere in Europe will have no voice on December 12th.

REMINDER: What the Brexit deal means for Brits in Italy

December's election is being seen by some as a second public vote on Brexit, given the outcome will have a huge bearing on if and how the UK exits the EU.

We asked British citizens in Italy how it feels to lose their vote in the country of their birth.

Dozens of you responded, and many pointed out that they still pay tax in the UK and are directly affected by British government decisions.

In our poll, 80 percent said Britons should never lose the vote, no matter how long they have lived abroad.

20 percent felt it was fair to have a time limit on voting in general elections after moving abroad.

“I agree for general elections that having a cut off point is fair.”

“I do strongly object however that in elections or referendums, where our rights are at risk we should be given the right to vote. The Brexit referendum was not democratic in this respect,” said Marion Hunter, living in Verona.

“It feels like we are in limbo and have no rights”, she said, adding: “we did not “leave” – we exercised our right to move freely within the EU.”

'Then came Brexit'

Some respondents said the Brexit question had changed the way they think about voting rights for UK citizens living abroad.

“My answer to this question used to be “no”, on the grounds that only those who reside and contribute to UK should be able to vote;” said Ellen Bain Prior, who has lived in Italy for the past 32 years.

“Then came Brexit and a couple of million of Brits living all over the world, long-term, found their existing fundamental rights being whipped out from under their feet, without their having been allowed any voice in the decision.”

“This should never be allowed to happen again.”

Photo: AFP

The majority felt that they should be allowed to vote in the UK general election, and many said they now feel “alienated”, “angry,” “powerless” and “discriminated against.”

“One of the fundamentals of a democracy is that it is inclusive and does not discriminate. All Britons should have a say in matters which may directly affect their lives,” said Clarissa Killwick, who has lived in Italy for 20 years.

“Britons who go overseas should be valued, not written off. It goes against the notion of a global Britain if Brits overseas have no representation,” she said.

'No control'

The prevaling sentiment among those who've lost the vote was summed up in this one comment.

“I feel abandoned by my native country. Caught up in a situation over which I have no control.”

Some respondents said they feel like they now have “no voice” and “no country”.

“It feels terrible,” said Vivien Lucia Memo, living in Milan. “I no longer have a country. I still pay tax in the UK but I have no rights whatsoever. I feel like a refugee.”

She added that “Italy never removes voting rights from its citizens living abroad, therefore it is more democratic than Britain.”

READ ALSO: How will Brexit affect you in Italy? Q&A with the British Ambassador

Rupert Dodds, living in the province of Novara, said he felt “alienated, with no voice in the UK.”

Jacqueline Cook, near Udine, said: “Am I or am I not a British citizen, wherever I may live? I feel like a third class one without the right to vote.”

No taxation without representation’

Many readers said they felt that regardless of Brexit, those that pay taxes should maintain their right to vote.

“As many are still UK taxpayers, the principle of no taxation without representation stands. Also, though many acts of Parliament relate to internal UK affairs, many others like the Brexit vote impact directly on Brits living in EU27,” said Denise Abel, living in Umbria.

And some readers who now pay tax in Italy but have British citizenship said they should still have the right to vote in the UK.

“I pay taxes in Italy and not in England, however for a referendum which affects my citizenship I believe that I am entitled to a vote,” said Gerald Arthur Sadler, who has been in Italy for 45 years.

Proxy or postal?

Local authorities in the UK have been suggesting Brits abroad to opt for proxy vote given the short time limit for arranging the elections and historical problems with postal votes.

For those British citizens in Italy who can vote in December's election, over 73 percent say they will do so via a proxy vote, with 19 percent opting for a postal vote, and more than seven percent saying they won't be voting.

The answers above are just a small sample of the many responses we received. Thank you to everyone who took the time to get in touch and share their thoughts.

Member comments

  1. I fail to understand why British people living full time in Italy should feel ‘angry and alienated’ by not being able to vote in the UK.

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What Brits in Italy need to know if they move back to the UK post-Brexit

Most people accept that moving to Italy is tricky and involves a lot of paperwork, but for Brits deciding to go back to the UK it's easy, right? After all, you're just going home? Wrong.

What Brits in Italy need to know if they move back to the UK post-Brexit

Moving countries is a time-consuming process – but if you’re British and living in Italy you might think that moving back to the UK would be simpler.

Well, there won’t be a language barrier and as a UK citizen you won’t need any immigration paperwork (although if you’re bringing an Italian partner with then that gets complicated) – but you will still face administrative hurdles around pensions, healthcare, driving and taxes. 

Some of these issues existed before Brexit, while others are as a direct result of the UK leaving the EU. Here are the most common questions from Brits thinking of moving back to the UK; 

Do I still qualify for NHS treatment?

You are entitled to NHS treatment if you are ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK – there is no minimum time limit, so as soon as you’re back in the UK on a permanent basis, you can use the NHS. You will need to register for a GP in your local area in order to access non-emergency treatment, and to get an NHS number if you do not already have one.

You may need to provide proof of a UK address in order to use NHS services – although in reality UK citizens are rarely asked for this apart from when registering with a GP. 

If you have been an S1 holder while living in the EU you should cancel that, just so there is no confusion over where you are getting your healthcare.

If you go back to Italy for a visit, remember that you are now a tourist and will need a GHIC card to get European healthcare, while travel insurance is also advised in case of accident or illness while visiting an EU country. 

Can I drive on my EU licence?

If you have been living in Italy you may have exchanged your UK licence for an Italian one under the post-Brexit agreement which came into force from March 2023.

Once you’re back living in the UK you will have to swap your licence back a UK one, and you have 12 months to do that.

You don’t need to take a new driving test, it’s just a matter of swapping the licence – you can find details on the swap process for UK licences here, and if you’re in Northern Ireland here

You can continue to drive while the exchange process is happening. 

Can I bring my Italian partner with me?

If you’re returning alone you won’t need to do any kind of immigration paperwork, your UK passport is enough. However, if you’re bringing with you a partner who is not a UK citizen, it becomes complicated.

After the end of the Brexit transition process there was an ‘amnesty’ period in which Brits with EU partners could move back to the UK under the old immigration rules. This has now ended and EU partners face the same immigration process as all other foreign spouses.

Essentially either your partner will need to have already secured a relatively high-paying job in the UK, or you will need to prove that you have a large amount of money to support them.

They will need to go through the process of getting a UK visa (which is expensive – between £1,000 and £1,500 just for the visa fee) and there is no guarantee that their application will be successful simply because they are married/in a civil partnership with a Brit. They will also need to take an English-language exam. 

Find full details here

What about my pension contributions from the EU? 

If you have been working in Italy, you will probably have been contributing to the Italian pension system. Pre-Brexit, UK and EU pension contributions could be blended into a single pension – but this is no longer the case.

Brits still living in the EU who are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement are theoretically covered by blended pensions if they had made pension contributions in the UK before moving to the EU, but the same does not apply if you move back to the UK. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How your Italian pension works

The good news is that EU countries still practice this – so if for example you have worked in France, Germany and Italy your contributions will be totted up and paid out as a single pension – you apply in the last country you worked in.

Bear in mind, however, that different countries have different pension ages. So if for example you worked in France (pension age 64 under the new system) and Greece (pension age 67) – you would start to get the French portion of your pension from the age of 64, but you won’t get the Greek part until you turn 67.

The country that is paying your pension may require you to have an EU bank account to pay into – and you should check with the country paying your pension whether there are any other conditions to observe.

When it comes to a pension from the UK, it depends on how long you worked there. The basic rule is that you need 10 years of National Insurance contributions in order to get a state pension. However the UK government states that periods of work done in the EU or EEA “may” count towards your qualifying period.

Even if they do, however, they don’t count towards the total pension amount – so for example if you worked for seven years in the UK and the remaining 35 years of your career in the EU, you can qualify for a UK state pension, but it will only be based on the seven years of work in the UK (in other words, the payment per month will be tiny).

Further details on UK pension entitlement here.  

Do I need to cancel my Italian residency before leaving?

As with so many things in Italy, it depends.

If you’re relocating away from Italy permanently then de-registering as a resident and informing the authorities of your new address is a legal requirement

But if you’re moving back temporarily, you’re not required to cancel your Italian residency – and there’s no legal time limit for you to do so. Read more about how it works here.

Most countries require that you hand back residency cards before you leave, but in truth this is rarely strictly enforced. Check with the questura in your province of Italy what they want you to do with them.

If you do end up keeping hold of any residency or healthcare cards, don’t use them on trips back to the EU. Tempting as it might be to avoid border queues or healthcare fees, you will create a confusing official record if you are claiming to be resident of two countries at once.

READ ALSO: What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in Italy?

If you have taken Italian citizenship, that is a different matter and of course you are entitled to keep and use your Italian passport when visiting the EU.

Do I still have to pay Italian taxes? 

It’s highly likely that you were paying taxes in the country you lived in. Generally, tax declarations concern the previous year, so you will have to do at least one tax declaration and payment after moving back to the UK.

In Italy, the annual tax declaration takes place in June, and concerns the previous calendar year. So if for example you move back to the UK in September 2023, you will have to complete a tax declaration in June 2024, covering your nine months of residency in Italy in 2023.

If you still own property in Italy you will pay property taxes there, and if you have any earnings in your former home you will likely still have to pay taxes there – check with your local tax office. 

When you left the UK, you will likely have informed HMRC that you were leaving the country, so you will now have to tell them that you’re back. Whether you have to fill out a UK self-assessment form depends on whether you are a salaried employee or self-employed/retired. 

Can I keep my Italian bank account? Do I need a new UK account? 

This one depends on the type of bank account you have, but most banks in Italy require you to have an Italian address.

It’s also possible that your UK bank may have closed your account while you were living outside the UK, in which case you will need to open a new one.

A practical option while you are moving and still have interests in both countries is to open an internet bank account with a company like Wise or Revolut – these offer accounts in both pounds and euros and give you a European IBAN and a UK sort code, so you can use it in both countries.

Will my EU qualifications be recognised?

If you were studying or gaining professional qualifications while living in the EU, don’t assume that these will be recognised in the UK.

Brexit ended the mutual recognition of qualifications – check with the professional or academic body that issued them whether these are recognised in the UK, you may need to acquire a certificate of recognition.

It’s a good idea to check this point before you start job-hunting in the UK. 

Be prepared for hassles

The advantage of moving back to the UK is that you’re not starting from scratch and at least you know how things like council tax, electricity billing and healthcare work.

However, don’t assume that it will all be plain sailing – your lack of a recent UK address will make you an anomaly in many companies’ systems and you’re likely to be forced to have several long and annoying conversations with call centres while you explain that, while you are a British citizen, you have not recently been living in the UK.

There are likely to be other niggles: many UK car insurance companies won’t recognise a no-claims bonus built up abroad, so you’ll be back to paying full premiums on your car insurance, while banks might request extra money laundering checks due to your foreign associations.

A lot of people in the UK seem to be confused about the difference between citizenship and residency, so be prepared to have the following conversation a lot: “I’ve recently been living in Italy. No, I’m not Italian, I’m British, I was just living in Italy. Yes, I am a UK citizen.”