I live in Italy at the heart of the European Union and have witnessed first hand how the euro has destroyed La Dolce Vita and reduced the Italian economy to basket case status. But even though I am a British citizen and probably better equipped than most to see just how awful the EU is, I am not allowed to vote in the referendum tomorrow. Why? Because I have not been registered to vote in the UK within the past 15 years.
I may live abroad but I remain proudly British. I fly a Union Jack – bought in a ship’s chandlers in the port of Ravenna where the exiled poet Dante died in 1321 – from the aerial of my Land Rover Defender. It’s the vehicle I use to ferry my six young Anglo-Italian children around the mosquito-infested Italian countryside on the Adriatic coast where we live and in which every now and again I sing ‘Rule Britannia’. They find it hilarious. The Union Jack, let’s face it, is the most beautiful flag in the world and the very sight of it irritates the Italians, which is an added bonus.
So to be denied the vote by my country – Great Britain – on the most important decision we have been asked to make since the Second World War is quite frankly a scandal. Other serious democracies – such as America for example – do not deny their citizens who live abroad the right to vote. Ever. Not even Italy does.
But if it is scandalous that I am denied the vote, then it is sure as heck even more scandalous that something like half a million Irish citizens who just happen to live in Britain can vote in this referendum. And what about the Commonwealth citizens resident in Britain, such as Cypriots, Maltese and even Nigerians and Pakistanis, who also have the vote. And so, too – without even setting foot in Britain – do the 30,000 citizens of tiny Gibraltar, just a stone’s throw from Africa. Why should all these foreigners (they total about 3.5 million) have the vote in this British referendum when I do not?
And I am not alone. What about the entire bloc of disenfranchised British expats? There are an estimated 4.5 million British citizens living abroad (of whom 1.3 million are in the EU), according to the United Nations, and under that 15-year rule, as many as two million of them like me are denied a vote in the referendum. The British electorate totals 46 million, and so our expat vote might well have decided the matter, especially in the event of a low turn-out.
Last month, an attempt by two expats to overturn the 15-year rule failed when Britain’s Supreme Court rejected their application for reasons which remain, at least to me, extremely unclear.
On my passport, these days – a tedious mauve instead of the rather fine navy blue of old – are written the words ‘European Union’ above ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. So what am I? A European, or an Englishman? In case you were wondering, I was born in London and educated at King’s Canterbury and Gonville & Caius College Cambridge. How British is that?
What the Supreme Court ruled – if I understand it correctly – is this: yes, inside the EU there is free movement of people, but there is not free movement of votes, so if you exercise your right to free movement, you forfeit your right to vote. But what kind of a ‘country’ or ‘democracy’ does that make the European Union?
One of the appellants to the court, Harry Shindler, 94, lives just down the Adriatic coast from me. He was a private with the 8th Army as it fought its way up the Italian peninsula to liberate Italy and Europe from the Nazis between 1943 and 1945. In 2014, Shindler received the MBE for his tireless work helping the families of British soldiers who died in the Italian Campaign locate where their relatives had died.
Thanks to the arbitrary 15-year rule, this old soldier who fought to free Europe from dictatorship cannot now vote in what David Cameron defines as a ‘once in a generation decision’, and which I would define as the most important political decision of the 21st century.
I could become an Italian citizen (anyone can after ten years) if I filled in a load of forms and waited another ten years or so for the Italian state to get round to rubber stamping them. After all, I have an Italian wife and we have six small children, who I insist are British even though they cannot speak much English. I could then – if still compos mentis – vote in Italian general elections till the cows come home. But who in their right mind would want to become an Italian? Certainly not me.
I love Europe, the Mediterranean in particular, and came to live in Italy in the nineties to make a living as an author and journalist. But I have come to despise the EU, because of the economic and cultural devastation it has caused to the Mediterranean in the name of its Holy Grail of ever-closer political union. The EU is quite literally destroying entire nations, which should actually not shock us because that is, as a matter of fact, its raison d’etre.
I have lived here for 20 years and the writing was on the wall as soon as the euro arrived: the price of everything that matters in life such as booze, fags and coffee doubled overnight (wages did not go up of course). Every time I see one of those dreary blue EU flags on a public building in Italy, I just want to tear it down. The faceless unelected Euro-elite cannot even create a decent flag, so what hope do they have of creating a harmonious United States of Europe? It would be a recipe for even more disaster. Their only hope now is to impose it by force, and that is terrifying.
No citizen of any European country, I am willing to bet, defines themselves as a European, or ever will. The peoples of the EU do not even speak the same languages. Having sleep-walked into the euro, everyone in Italy at least now seems to understand that without political union, a single currency cannot and will not survive unless the Germans pay off the monstrous debts of the Mediterranean Eurozone countries, which they won’t. Meanwhile, these countries are condemned to permanent economic crisis because they no longer have their own currency and are therefore powerless to do anything meaningful to alleviate their misery.
No wonder, after nearly a decade of economic slump in Italy since the big crash of 2007/8, the Italians are the second most Eurosceptic EU nation after the British, and 48pc of them – according to the most recent poll – would vote to leave the EU if they were granted a referendum.
I would, too, if only I were allowed to vote. I may live in continental Europe, but I am a Brexiteeer born and bred because I care more about democracy and liberty than money. The cost to my identity as an Englishman and what that means is far too high a price to pay for a fistful of euros.Yes, of course, as a Briton abroad there are economic risks to me if Britain leaves the EU, in terms of my pension and health-care rights, for example. But so what? What’s the point of all that jazz if there’s no democracy, no liberty and no work?
Britain may not be in the eurozone, but if the nation votes to Remain, we will still be yoking ourselves to this vast anti-democratic disaster zone teetering on the brink of economic and political chaos. They have taken away my vote but they cannot take way the Union Jack on the radio antenna of my Land Rover Defender. Evviva Boris! Evviva Brexit! And dare I add from the mosquito infested swamps of Ravenna where the poet Dante died in exile: ‘Rule Britannia!’
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.