In a couple of days’ time one of the most livid times in British history will finally come to an end, by the sound of a thousand sighs of relief from everyone involved: campaigners, politicians, MPs, the Prime Minister himself, and, arguably more importantly, British and European citizens.
Having moved in the United Kingdom in June 2014 I pretty much lived the sudden rise of the anti-european sentiment in the country, started after the European Parliament election and the UKIP unexpected success, stirred up by the infamous promise of an EU Referendum to win back the most right-wing support for the Conservative party. I witnessed the slow but inexorable rise of the Referendum to the public opinion spotlight, which came together with a quick deterioration of the debate, diluted with exaggerations and plain lies, up to the recent polls, predicting a neck to neck race for the Leave and Remain campaigns.
I remember the day I first set foot in this country with no return ticket. It was a memorably hot summer, probably the first in decades to get bright sunshines for more than a couple of days in mid August. I had left Rome with a suitcase filled with enthusiasm, it was time to be the change I wanted to happen in my life.
It was amazing. I’ll never completely understand how so many fellow immigrants find something to complain about this city in particular and this country in general. Yes, of course, the weather is not what we’ve grown up with and you’ll miss the excellent and cheap food you could find back home. But I also found a welcoming, straightforward and fair place to live and work. I’m tempted to say it was easy, and it actually was, in several ways: registering for a NIN at the local job centre (which was unsurprisingly full of immigrants), when I was expecting to be treated like a nuisance at best, and instead I’ve found an approachable professional that made me feel comfortable and did everything he could to answer many of my questions; finding a place to rent and opening a bank account was not as difficult as I expected, and I never felt out of place once. I was happy.
Last 7th of June I celebrated my second anniversary in London. I was eager to celebrate, not only as a viable excuse to bring some cake in the office (no one should feel like he needs an excuse to buy cake), but to reaffirm, at least in my heart, that I belong to this place.
It hasn’t been the easiest thing reading that my people, the fellow Europeans who bring here their talent and their will to work and improve their lives, are being discussed and talked about like they were a burden for the country. It’s appalling how throughout the referendum debate immigration was talked about as something in need of control, like vermin. I felt like an uninvited guest in my city. They talked about the pressure on public services, that get cut every day by the very government the British people rushed to vote for, on the NHS, that is a prime candidate for privatisation according to the same Conservative party, on housing, a sector that is traditionally driven by foreign speculators buying crap homes in the outskirts of London, and a speculation encouraged by the Government with the proliferation of buy to let schemes. They talked about the benefits we extort from the mild-mannered British taxpayers. And they never mentioned, not even once, the ludicrous amount of money we pay to Her Majesty Revenue and Customs for public services we’re very little interested in abusing.
Then of course the horror happened: Jo Cox was killed, by a man that was heard shouting Britain first! while he stabbed the Labour MP. I’m not saying that this tragedy was a direct effect of the political climate around the EU referendum, but it’s definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back: I had enough, I just want this to end.
Whether you’re voting Remain or Leave, I want you to know that your vote will have an effect on my life, and on the life on my family. You’ll vote on whether my life in this country should remain as easy and manageable as it’s always been, or not. You’ll have a say on whether I should remain free to live, earn and spend my money in this country, paying for your NHS and your State pension, or not.
I chose to live in the United Kingdom. I could have gone anywhere in Europe, but I wanted to live here. I was born in Italy, I can’t change that. I can’t and I don’t want to. Italy’s where I’ll eventually come back, and the only place where I want to die, that’s for sure. But Britain is where I chose to live and start a family.
Perhaps it’s not what you’re voting Leave for, maybe you’re concerned about national identity or worried about the declining Eurozone economy. That’s fair enough. But in many ways, your Leave vote means that you see me and others like me as a danger. It means that you’re concerned when you hear me speaking in my language with my friends in our local pub. Voting for Leave ultimately means that you’d rather have me, and my family, out of your country.