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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‘So stressful’: How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple’s Tuscan dream

One couple from Manchester found the home of their Tuscan retirement dreams, but the stalemate over a UK-Italy driving licence agreement is throwing their future into question.

'So stressful': How Italy-UK driving licence fiasco threatens couple's Tuscan dream

Iain and Lynn Gosling lived and worked all their lives in and around Manchester – at a bank, where they met, then in various schools – but had always dreamed of retiring in Tuscany.

In 2018, with the Brexit clock ticking, they decided to take the plunge, and after a lengthy Place in the Sun-style hunt, they finally found their ideal home.

The podere (farmhouse) they chose just outside the town of Pomerance, in the province of Pisa, checked all their boxes: it had an olive grove, was close enough to the beach, had a friendly local community, and the town was particularly invested in green energy, sourcing most of its power from renewables.

Most importantly, it was just over an hour’s drive from Pisa airport, meaning they could regularly go back and visit family in the UK.

READ ALSO: ‘We bought the cheapest house in Piedmont and live mortgage free’

“We’d holidayed in Tuscany for 20 years, and the views and everything were even better than where we’d been holidaying. So we kind of thought we struck gold really,” says Lynn.

“When we saw it, we just knew, and when we went into the town it was such a good, welcoming feeling.”

Iain and Lynn's podere in Pomerance.

Iain and Lynn’s podere in Pomerance. Source: Iain Gosling.

The couple began building a new life, learning Italian and befriending local residents. They were careful to take the necessary steps to secure their future in Italy before the Brexit deadline, registering with the town hall and later obtaining carta di soggiorno residency cards.

But – like many other British nationals in Italy – the pair didn’t anticipate that almost two years on from Brexit, negotiations for a reciprocal driving licence agreement between the two countries would have stalled. It’s an ongoing state of limbo that threatens to make their retirement dream unworkable.

While with hindsight the pair would have exchanged their driving licences before the Brexit deadline, they believed a deal would soon be reached – especially as the UK allows EU licence-holders to drive with almost no restrictions.

“If we cannot drive in the short term, I’m sure we can find a way round it somehow,” says Iain. “Longer term? No, not really.”

READ ALSO: Do you have to take Italy’s driving test in Italian?

A 12-month grace period granted in 2021 is due to expire in January unless an agreement is reached, forcing UK drivers to choose between taking an Italian driving exam that could well turn out to be unnecessary, or gambling on a last-minute deal that risks leaving them without a valid licence if it doesn’t materialise.

For Iain and Lynn, who live a four-minute drive from the town on hilly country roads without access to public transport or pavements, it doesn’t feel like much of a choice.

“I’d be absolutely lost without driving,” says Lynn, who judges that without a car the couple would have to make daily hour-long round walks into town to buy basic necessities.

They decided that Iain would take the exam so that at least one of them would still be able to drive in the absence of a deal, and booked his theory test for November to give him time to prepare.

As a minimum of 32 days must pass between passing the theory test and sitting the practical exam, he’ll only just secure his Italian licence in time in the event that there’s no agreement – if he manages to pass both on the first go.

READ ALSO: Some of the best learner sites for taking your Italian driving test

Iain and Lynn outside their Tuscan farmhouse.

Iain and Lynn outside their Tuscan farmhouse. Source: Iain Gosling.

“So – no pressure on the theory test,” says Iain, who plans to fly back early from Christmas holidays in the UK to sit his practical exam if he succeeds in passing the former.

The couple know they could have begun the process earlier. But the test requires answering the same theory questions as a native Italian speaker and a taking mandatory six hours of practical lessons, and it isn’t cheap – Iain and Lynn estimate the total cost to be just under €1,000.

What’s more, those who pass an Italian driving test are classed as new drivers (neopatentati) for three years, which comes with a range of restrictions on speed limits and vehicle engine size, and a zero tolerance policy on alcohol.

READ ALSO: Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

All this has made taking the test a last resort for people who believed the UK and Italian governments would have reached an agreement by this point – or have at least issued clear guidance as to what action UK licence-holders should take.

The UK’s ambassador to Italy stresses that negotiations continue – though has encouraged British residents to book an Italian driving test.

A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Rome told The Local in October: “Since August we have continued and intensified further our work with our Italian colleagues and have made progress towards our shared objective.”

Lynn says: “Over the last six months it was very optimistic, everything we were hearing. It’s just in the past two months that we’ve thought, well, wait a minute.”

If Iain doesn’t manage to pass the test before the deadline and no deal is reached, “we are stuck,” he says.

“This situation is so stressful.”

READ ALSO: How UK drivers in Italy face new problems after passing Italian driving test

The couple fear that without the ability to drive, their current lifestyle would be unsustainable.

“You wake up thinking about it, and you go to bed thinking about it,” says Lynn. “Anxiety, that’s how it makes you feel.”

“Someone will turn around and say, well why didn’t you take your driving tests 12 months ago so you’re not in this situation?” says Iain. “But if all the signs were encouraging from the ambassador, we thought well OK, we can keep our benefits here and we don’t want to lose them.”

While the embassy insists that negotiating the agreement is its top priority, Iain worries that the recent political upheaval in both the UK and Italy has pushed the issue on to the back burner.

“We have no choice but to have faith in our British representatives to deliver and soon too, because the previous regulation extension was far too late,” Iain says. “We need to know now so we can make definite plans and contingencies.”

Despite the stress, Iain and Lynn are determined to do all they can to find a way to remain in Pomerance, where they say they’ve been embraced by local residents and have become good friends with their Italian neighbours who occupy the other half of their semi-detached property.

“We don’t want to give this up,” says Iain. “We love it here and we want to stay.”