Friday, June 24, 2016


On this portentous night when, to quote the newspaper La Sicilia, "the fate of Europe depends on the mood of the British", how is it all being viewed here?  With incredulity, puzzlement, dismay and a little grudging admiration, it seems to me.

To understand the first two reactions, you have to understand that in most EU countries the organisation is still seen, notwithstanding its faults, as the best guarantee we have of peace in the region.  This is a view to which I subscribe, for you cannot spend most of your life studying and teaching French and Italian without being influenced by the literature those countries produced during the Second World War and its aftermath, nor can you ignore the ideals of Jean Monnet.

Dismay enters the picture because most people here think that if Britain leaves the EU, it will signal the beginning of the end, with Italy, a country which has suffered greatly during the recent recession, exploring the "out" option next. It has to be said that many people I have spoken to would not consider this a bad idea.

I am, as you will have gathered, culturally and emotionally European and this would be the case whether I still lived in the UK or not. However, as an expat Brit living in the EU, I have other concerns about a Brexit, for the jury is still out on whether or not the "acquired rights" of British citizens who have settled in EU countries would be affected.  I have read two contradictory articles about this in two days and have concluded that actually, no one has a clue.  Italians and other EU citizens who have settled in Britain
have similar worries.

Yes, it is unlikely that Italy would deport all the Brits and that the UK would deport all the Italians  - what would happen to the UK restaurant trade?!  There would probably be an agreement between the two countries and indeed, I have a feeling that there already is one, which pre-dates Britain's membership of the EU. However, a country like Italy, never happier than when it is inventing new bureaucracy that in the end even its authors do not understand, would surely create new legal hurdles for expat Brits to jump. As I have often had to deal, here, with officialdom that thinks that because Britain is not in the eurozone it has never been in the EU, I am not hopeful that the average Italian town hall clerk would be familiar with the terms of any international agreement on my status.

My impressions of this referendum campaign and of my countrymen during it come mostly from the media and obviously, I am viewing the situation from afar but tonight I want to make a plea: Both sides have, in recent weeks and for different reasons, used the slogan, "I want my country back." Well, I want my country back too and, before I get shouted down, in some quarters, because I "don't even live in the UK", I would point out that I pay taxes there and still have UK voting rights. and of course I care what happens to the country that made me.  

I want my country back because I want the fun of being British back: what happened, during this campaign, to our healthy scepticism about almost everything, to our understatement, to our sense of irony and our ability to find humour, but not at the expense of those unable to take it, in all but the bleakest of situations?  What happened to our ability to laugh at ourselves [a characteristic we share with the Italians]? I also want  to be able to say that in my country racist posters are illegal, that we can have a disagreement without name-calling or yelling untruths at one another and that politicians are not gunned down in the street for their beliefs.  I want to say that I come from a nation that cares about the fate of those less fortunate than its own citizens, that takes pride in diversity and that is, above all, tolerant.

Whatever happens later on tonight and in the early hours of tomorrow morning, I want my gentle, self-deprecating, tolerant country back.

De toutes les superstitions, la plus dangereuse, n'est-ce pas celle de haïr son prochain pour ses opinions? 
Di tutte le superstizioni, la più pericolosa non è quella di odiare il prossimo per le sue opinioni? 
Of all superstitions, is not the most dangerous that of hating your neighbour for his opinions?

Voltaire - Traité sur la Tolérance / Trattato sulla tolleranza /  Treatise on Tolerance, 1763


Rosaria Williams said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on such a day! Greetings from cool Oregon.

Lee said...

There will be turmoil for quite some time until all the dust settles....I hope it settles sooner than later.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

I just feel terribly sad .I love Europe , I love the fact that I can get on a train and go anywhere , that I have been able to meet and work with so many different people and learn from them all .
Never mind about a gap year on a Thai beach , a few month's living in another European country should be de rigeur for every young British school leaver . They'd see that Europe has a lot more to offer than Amsterdam and Ibiza .

James Higham said...

A very great error and one which certain people are persisting with, is that we have "left Europe". Nothing could be further than the truth. We have simply withdrawn from a tyrannical system which was hurting the nation. People have a native cunning, an ability to see these things and that's how they voted.

We are very much part of Europe, I feel European and have been in constant contact with friends in other lands - Holland, Spain, France, Italy, Germany and they feel the same. We are actually more strongly bound now we're free. No Brexiteers I know are Little Englanders, we all see unfettered trade now and indeed it's already started.

Other countries are never going to cease to trade. The only people with some right to be worried are British expats - I correspond with a few of these. The EU authorities will try to make their lives more difficult, that is true. As for those within the UK, there's a new dawn, many have just not realized it yet.

Laruchka said...

Yes, my boss was laughing at me for being "extra-communitaria." It does't seem to have occurred to her yet that it might be a problem if she wants to renew my contract. Most of my other colleagues seem to think that marrying an Italian automatically gives you an Italian passport and were surprised to learn that I don't have citizenship. There is no point in asking for advice from any Italian official as they won't have a clue either. Sigh.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Thanbks, Rosaria. So do I, Lee. SmitoniusandSonata, I completely agree. you know I cannot agree with you, James and I am utterly devastated by the whole thing. Hi, Laruchka. I fear you are right.


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