If it had been easier for us expats to vote, Brexit might not have happened

A British couple who have lived in Italy since 2014 complain they were “deprived” of their voting right during the Brexit referendum, and that by the time they figured out how to vote Remain via a postal vote it was too late.

Julia, from north Wales, and Ian Gilmore, who has Italian roots and is from Largs in Scotland, say the process detailed online was complicated and lacked guidelines.

The couple, both in their sixties, were already residents in Italy when the vote took place. They first had to register online to participate in the referendum and so be able to choose whether to vote by post or proxy. They never figured out how to do it via internet.

“The Brexit vote was a scam and we were traumatised by the outcome,” Mrs Gilmore told i. “By the time we figured how we could vote from Italy and apply for the online process it was too late. We never had a chance to vote.”

The process, of first registering on the UK government website and then uploading the necessary documents to vote by post, was hard to understand, they say.

The couple bought a six-bedroom farmhouse in Langhe, Piedmont, for £428,000 and spent five years renovating it (Photo: Julia Gilmore)

Mrs Gilmore believes that had all foreign-based Brits voted at the Brexit referendum, it might have flipped the outcome of the vote.

“I don’t consider the British government as my government, politicians talked lies,” she says. “I don’t think anybody with any sanity could ever have voted Leave.

“There’s nothing I want to return to in the UK, I thought I’d miss more of if but I don’t.”

An Electoral Commission spokesperson told i that “overseas voters faced challenges participating in the referendum”, and that “the Government should explore new approaches to improve access to voting”, including “allowing people outside the UK to vote at embassies and consulates, or to download and print postal ballot packs from home to return them more quickly. Any such changes would be for the UK Government to take forward”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We have made changes since the Referendum, including a new digital system that makes it easier for overseas voters to apply for a postal or proxy vote. At the same time, the Elections Act allows overseas voters to remain registered for longer so their voices can be heard at the ballot box.”

Ten years ago, the Gilmores sold everything, including their UK house and catering business in the Clwydian hills in north Wales, and relocated to the village of Belveglio in Piedmont’s Langhe area, home to just 300 people.

They bought an old, six-bedroom farm surrounded by Barbera vineyards for less than €500,000 (£428,000), which they renovated over five years. The property would have cost three times as much in the UK, says Mrs Gilmore.

Mr Gilmore helped restyle the cottage alongside the builders, to save on renovation costs.

The couple fell in love with the al-fresco lounge area and balcony, and use the cantina (wine cellar) for Christmas parties.

Mrs Gilmore says the property would have cost three times as much in the UK (Photo: Julia Gilmore)

They say they did not leave the UK because they didn’t like it, but to start over. Life was stressful and the business required a lot of moving around, so they decided to leave in the hope of better in Langhe.

“We fell in love with this place because it was untouched, even though it was in really bad shape and required a lot of renovation. This 250-year-old farmhouse has love. We’re living the dream.”

The couple lived in the house throughout the restoration, with part of the roof missing and only a little stufa (electric heater) to keep them warm. But Mrs Gilmore says it was “liberating”.

Besides the great weather, beautiful summers and short winters, they love Piedmont’s countryside where there’s no pressure, real food, a simple culture and welcoming people.

They’ve partially turned their property into a rural guesthouse called Casa del Roseto.

Mrs Gilmore believes that if all foreign-based Britons had voted in the Brexit referendum, it might have flipped the outcome (Photo: Julia Gilmore)

“Brexit has impacted on Brits travelling to this area,” says Mrs Gilmore, a former horticulturist. “Since Brexit we’ve had very few British visitors and certainly many Brits who have purchased holiday homes in this area now have to jump through hoops due to travel restrictions. We only had four British guests last year.”

Mrs Gilmore says half of Britons don’t realise what they lost with Brexit and did not have an appropriate awareness campaign to guide them during the referendum campaign.

“Before [Brexit] they had the freedom to choose where they studied, worked, lived and most of all where they travelled and for how long. They lost all the chances they had as a result of a lack of information,” she says.