Brits in Italy want to vote to keep Ukip out

With uncertainty reigning over the outcome of the UK’s national election on May 7th, The Local spoke to British people living in Italy to get their views on the vote.

Brits in Italy want to vote to keep Ukip out
Brits in Italy want to keep Nigel Farage's Ukip out of government . Photo: Ben Stanstall/AFP

Just days before British voters head to the polls, politics watchers are pointing to a tense election.

Current polls show neither of the two leading parties – the Conservatives and Labour – are due to win an outright majority. The likely battle to form a coalition is turning heads, but it is the rise of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party (Ukip) which appears to be a greater cause for concern among some Brits.

The challenges to the UK’s two-party system have also raised eyebrows abroad, with Brits in Italy making their minds up about which box to tick.

While the UK Electoral Commission was unable to tell The Local how many people would be voting from Italy, Brits have the right to vote back home for the first 15 years they live abroad.

And with anti-EU sentiment gathering momentum in the UK over the past few years, many who didn’t vote in the last election will go to the polls in defence of their right to live and work in mainland Europe.

Giselle Stafford is one British voter in Italy, who said she filled out an online form, emailed her local council in the UK, and sent a form by post.

“The process was fairly easy, although remembering the last address we were registered to vote and the right dates was a bit of fun!” she told The Local.

Despite the ease of registering, Stafford admitted that the upcoming election would be the first in which she had voted from abroad by post. “Mainly because we were ill-informed before and didn't realize we could vote as expats,” she explained.

Stafford was prompted to vote owing to the rise of Ukip: “I feel this particular election, with unsavoury elements knocking on the door of Number 10 (the prime minister’s official residence), is indeed an exceptionally important one to vote on.

“I wouldn't even want to visit my home country if Ukip got in,” she said.

Gareth Horsfall, a financial advisor, has lived in Italy for over ten years. Wary that his right to live in Europe might be under threat, he said he is voting in this election despite not doing so in the 2010 elections.

“I felt this one was important in terms of contributing to a vote that might act as a force against the anti-European rhetoric that has surfaced in the UK in the last few years,” he told The Local.

“I thought I needed to vote to make a statement that for me, as a British emigrant to mainland Europe, it is inconceivable that Britain should exit the eurozone and I, as well as many others, be faced with the restrictions imposed on non-EU members regarding freedom of movement within the zone.”

Horsfall added that the EU, despite its troubles, “has opened up many doors for people like me to live and work abroad and have a different lifestyle to that offered in the UK."

He also believes that a UK exit from the EU would be a disaster economically and “a nightmare for the millions of British emigrants to mainland Europe.”

Marina Webster, who owns a villa rental business in Marche, won’t be voting, but only because she was unaware that Italian residents without a UK address could do so until recently.

That said, she does think it’s important to vote, especially now.

“Even if only to express a preference for the ‘least worst’ option,” she added.

“Ukip scares me.”

But not all British people in Italy feel the same sense of duty. Living abroad, Andrew McDonald said he saw no reason to vote in the UK elections.

“What's the point in me voting for parties in England if I live in Italy? It won’t change my life,” he said. 

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Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.