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British campaigner in Italy Harry Shindler awarded OBE for supporting UK nationals’ rights

A World War II veteran who founded a support group for British nationals in Italy has been awarded an OBE for his services to fellow Brits abroad, the UK government has announced.

British campaigner in Italy Harry Shindler awarded OBE for supporting UK nationals' rights
Harry Shindler at home in Italy. Photo: Alex Macbeth

Harry Shindler, who will be 100 years old in July, has long fought for the rights of UK nationals living in Italy and founded The Association of British Expats in Italy in 2010.

After almost 40 years of working to help Brits overseas retain their ability to vote in British elections, Shindler has been included in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

READ ALSO: What Britons in Europe need to know about the UK government’s ‘votes for life’ pledge

The ex-serviceman been awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire), the second highest ranking Order of the British Empire award, behind CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire).

The title came seven years after his first royal recognition, when he was awarded an MBE in 2014.

In a statement the UK government said 129 people were being recognised for “exceptional service to the UK overseas or internationally” including those who have “given exceptional support to British nationals overseas during the pandemic”.

Clarissa Killwick from campaign and support group ‘Brexpats – Hear Our Voice’ said, “We are so pleased Harry has received this further recognition. UK nationals all over the world are indebted to him for being determined to campaign for what is right, no matter how long it takes.”

“I am in Italy and help run the Facebook group, Beyond Brexit – UK citizens in Italy. Harry is a very important figure for our group members, who would also like to express their gratitude and add their congratulations.”

She added that she “was struck by his modesty” and said that he is “unstoppable”.

Shindler’s most recent campaign work has focused on restoring voting rights to foreign-based UK citizens who, under current legislation, lose their right to vote in British elections after living abroad for more than 15 years.

In its ‘Votes for Life’ pledge, the UK government in May said it will soon act to ensure that British citizens living abroad do not lose their right to vote in the UK even if they have been abroad for over 15 years.

Shindler, who fought in the Battle of Anzio and took part in the liberation of Rome, has also spearheaded initiatives to keep the memory alive of British service personnel who helped free Italy from fascism in the Second World War.

Speaking to The Local from his home in Porto d’Ascoli on the Adriatic coast in 2018, Harry said, “So many Brits abroad have gotten involved. They’re all coming together.”

He eventually settled in Italy after first visiting as a soldier in 1982 with his wife and son.

His campaign to get Brits abroad the vote has turned him into something of a legendary figure, whose work has inspired the citizens’ rights group British in Europe.

Other UK nationals living abroad have also received a nod from the palace in this year’s honours list, with these Brits in Spain receiving titles for their services to British nationals across the EU.

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BREXIT

‘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.”

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