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.