What Brexit means for me

I am still reeling from the shock of Brexit but now feel the need to put some thoughts and feelings into words.

The referendum was always going to be a close call, but deep down I was certain that at the end of the day if not the sense of collective responsibility then pragmatism and the spirit of self-preservation would prevail.

Tragically, that was not to be the case.

And my anger and frustration have only been compounded by the fact that, as a British citizen who has been non UK-resident for more than 15 years, I could have no say in the result.

My initial reaction was one of bitter disappointment and a profound sense of betrayal.

Betrayal by the very country and people that first shaped my sense of what it means to be European.

I went on my first school trip to Europe – Italy, in fact – at the tender age of ten, but only after family holidays to Greece, Portugal and, most significantly, Berlin.

That was in 1985, four years before the Wall came down.

During our trip we were able to cross from West to East via Checkpoint Charlie and visit the museum there. The stories of the fugitives who risked – and often lost – their lives to escape from East Berlin made a huge impression on me, instilling an early sense of the values of freedom and justice that are at the heart of the albeit profoundly flawed European project.

Other holidays and school exchange visits to numerous European countries followed.

Then in my post-school gap year I spent four months working as an au pair in France before going on to read two European languages – French and Italian – at university and spending the third year of my degree course working as an English language assistant at a state secondary school in Rome.

All this would have been more difficult – and in some cases impossible – if Britain had not been a member of the European Union.

And so on Friday morning it felt as if the rug had been pulled from under my feet.

It was as if suddenly I was being told that my world view – the world view that Britain helped to foster – and the choices that I have made on the basis of that view – including the decision to make my life in another European country – were no longer acceptable or valid.

It didn’t help my sense of disorientation to learn that one of the people most instrumental in shaping my education voted Leave.

I ask you, what was the point of it all?

Much attention has been given by the Italian media to the effects of Brexit on Italians living in the UK. But what about Britons living here, or in other EU member states? When the UK eventually disentangles itself from the EU we will presumably lose our European citizenship rights and hence also the legal basis for being here or elsewhere – unless, that is, we are already also citizens of our ‘adopted’ EU countries.

That is a destabilising prospect.

Before Brexit I found that my British and European identities sat comfortably together, but now that Britain has voted to leave the EU the feelings has changed.

Suddenly those identities have come into collision course and over the coming months and years I anticipate a conflict of loyalties that may be difficult and painful to negotiate.

Sooner or later I may have to make a choice.

But perhaps in applying for Italian citizenship earlier this year I was already making one without fully realising it.

With any luck I should be awarded Italian citizenship and fully restored to my European identity by early 2018, before Britain goes drifting off into the Atlantic.

 

Becoming an Italian citizen / 1

Today I took the first concrete steps towards becoming an Italian citizen.

It is something that I have been considering for many years – in fact, since 2003 when I became entitled to apply for Italian citizenship on grounds of being a EU citizen resident in Italy for four years.

However at that stage my future in Italy still felt too uncertain.

I returned to the prospect more recently, in 2010, when I became doubly entitled to apply for Italian citizenship after being married to an Italian national for two years.

But at that time I had more pressing things to do, with my first child on the way and no desire to spend endless hours pursuing the necessary documentation between Italy and the UK.

Now, at the start of 2016, much has changed. I’m definitely here for the long haul and I now feel an urgent need to engage more fully in the civic and political life of my adopted country (one of my ‘projects’ is to apply to take part in international electoral observation missions and another is to enter local politics on a non-party political basis). The October referendum on the constitutional reform bill currently before parliament (it cleared its second identical reading in the Chamber of Deputies today) is looming, and while I do not believe my ‘no’ vote would make much difference to the final outcome I still feel compelled to take part. I would also like to vote in the next general elections to choose a replacement for Renzi…

Then there is the issue of the probable exit of Britain from the EU and the many practical consequences that this would have for me as a British citizen living in Italy. In the event of ‘Brexit’ I would presumably be stripped of my European citizenship rights, which would boil down to the right to be here in the first place on my present terms. Life could suddenly become quite complicated.

Nor do I want to lose my European citizenship on principle; I have benefitted hugely from the concept of the EU – it is thanks to this that I was able to move to Italy without hindrance in 1998 to make a new life for myself here – and I am firmly committed to the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights that it purports to represent.

Like many, I have also been deeply affected by recent challenges facing the EU, from the Greek economic crisis to migration. I have been saddened and frustrated at Europe’s inability to act decisively and with one voice… But I see this as no reason to abandon ship; rather, it seems all the more important to lay my cards on the table, roll up my sleeves and get stuck in.

So, today I filed an application to the ACRO Criminal Records Office for a police certificate for immigration purposes (NOT to be confused with a criminal record check, which is something different), one of the supporting documents required by the Italian ministry of the interior in the application for citizenship (the others are a full birth certificate, duly translated into Italian and legalized, receipt of payment of the €200 application fee and a copy of an identity document).

I had to present two proofs of my current address, my full address history with dates for the last 10 years, my last UK address, a passport photo, a copy of my passport and endorser details and pay £45.00 for the service.

I made the application via the ACRO website (very easy provided you have all the information and documents ready to upload) and the certificate will be sent to me by post. I just need to keep my fingers crossed that it will carry an official signature so I can then send it to the FCO Legalisation service to be legalised, before getting it translated (and the translation legalised) into Italian…

And this is only step one…

It was my dear friend Barbara Fabiani who first made me aware of the “beauty” (her word) of the Italian Constitution, way back in 2003 – long before actor and director Roberto Benigni sung its praises in his televised performance La Più Bella Del Mondo in December 2012. I remember her talking about the painstaking work of synthesis carried out by the constituent fathers to create a fundamental charter that might truly balance the aspirations of all the political forces that had opposed Nazi Fascism in Italy during the Second World War and protect the country against dictatorship in future. I went home that evening and read the fundamental principles and part I – rights and duties of citizens in one breath. It was love at first sight…

For Becoming an Italian citizen / 2 click here

For Becoming an Italian citizen / 3 click here