Brexit series: ‘This country has always welcomed people’ - a European perspective on Brexit

Anna Colivicchi is an apprentice journalist at the Lancashire Post who moved to the UK at the end of 2016. In the first part of our Brexit series she talks about what it means to be a EU citizen living and working here.

Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 5:00 pm
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson signing the official European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, inside No10 Downing Street. Credit: Crown Copyright

When I was fifteen, my dad insisted I needed to learn how to speak English.

His mother taught English at a local high school - she even studied at the University of Oxford for a few months in 1956 - and my dad travelled to the UK many times as a young man.

He thought it “impossible to have a decent job if you don’t speak good English.”

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So, in the summer, instead of hanging out with my school friends and going to the beach in Rome, I was shipped off to ‘sunny’ Kent for a two-week-long language course.

My first memory of the UK is a small room with a bunk bed in what was - as I learnt later on - a boarding school for boys, in Tonbridge.

On the first night I cried myself to sleep, after calling my dad to say how horrible that place was and that I couldn’t possibly stay there for two whole weeks.

Two weeks later, I was crying again - I didn’t want to go back home and leave my international friends, my small bedroom that I learnt to love, golden hash browns for breakfast, and the UK, which suddenly seemed the best place on earth and the only country I could imagine myself living in.

I became obsessed with everything British, from music, to art and history. I took extra language classes to make sure my English was good enough to live there one day, and I even hung a Union flag on my bedroom wall at home in Rome.

For some time, I was also convinced I could lose my Italian accent completely, but that is yet to happen.

When the UK headed to the polls to vote for Brexit in 2016, I was packing my bags to move to Coventry and study at the University of Warwick.

To those who asked me what I thought, and if the UK was actually going to vote to leave the EU, I said I couldn’t imagine it happening; when the result was announced, I was shocked and heartbroken.

At university, my British friends who voted to remain kept apologising - most of them were angry and upset, because “their future had been taken away from them.”

An English professor who taught me German literature also apologised during one of his lectures saying “I am so sorry but I don’t know what is wrong with this country anymore,” and he looked more frustrated than any European in the room.

My dad, who saw the UK as a country without flaws, said he “couldn’t believe British people are making such fools of themselves with this whole Brexit madness.”

To this date, I hardly met any people who confessed they voted to leave.

Did I actually never bump into any ‘Brexiteers’ or were they ashamed to admit it to my face because I’m European? I will never know.

On Friday, after three and a half years of negotiations, the UK finally leaves the European Union and the future of 3,5 million Europeans who, like me, live and work here, is still uncertain.

Will I need a working visa to keep doing the job I’m doing right now? Will my parents need a tourist visa to come visit me from Italy? Will I be penalised in the future because I don’t have a British citizenship? I have been bombarded - like every European living in this country - with similar questions since 2016.

Hopefully, we will get clear answers to all of our doubts once the UK finally departs from the EU.

It is certain though that this country has been a land of opportunities for many of us EU citizens.

It was somewhere we felt at home, where we found like-minded people, jobs that made us feel passionate and that we couldn’t even dream to do in our own country, and a multiculturality you will struggle to find anywhere else in Europe.

Every time I go back to Italy, I feel like a totally different person from who I was when I left, because of all the experiences and challenges that this country has created for me.

At that boarding school in Tonbridge, and at university later, I made long-lasting friendships with people from all over the world - even from Mongolia.

When I go down from Preston to London, I’m still taken by surprise by how frequently I hear people speaking Italian.

I believe that, without this multicultural power, the UK would not be the country it is now.

I think that even those who voted to leave understand this and value the importance of living in a country which has always welcomed whoever wished to contribute to its society.