Why I cannot leave the UK…

Photo by Aron van de Pol courtesy of unsplash
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As a kid in Italy in the late 1970s, I fell in love with a country called ‘Inghilterra’. This word translates as ‘England’, but at that age I was not aware of the four countries that make up the UK nor of the political issues amongst them.

Inghilterra was the country of my favourite British sitcoms Father dear father, A man about the house and Robin’s nest. These were broadcast (dubbed in Italian) on the second national TV channel (Rai2). This was the country of the terraced houses, double decker buses and colourful 1970s clothes which my cousin Alessandra (10 months younger than me) and I tried to recreate during our play dates.

As a Formula 1 obsessed teenager, my favourite F1 driver was Nigel Mansell.

However, by the time I finished my degree at the Polytechnic University of Milan (December 1993), the UK was no longer my first choice. The country of my dreams had by now become Finland, the land of the tall, blonde Finnish rally drivers. I used to spend my summer vacations in Finland, and I was learning Finnish in the hopes of meeting a Finnish man, who would whisk me away from my overprotective and possessive Italian Catholic family.

Juha Kankkunen in Helsinki City Grand Prix 2006

This plan caused lots of arguments with my father, who insisted on me perfecting my English in an English-speaking country to improve my career chances, and life opportunities.

I turned down the opportunity to study English in the USA as I would have stayed with relatives, and my stay would have been subjected to the limitations of a visa. For these reasons, I decided to move to the UK as the freedom of movement would allow me to stay as long as I wanted, and to be able to study, and work as an EU citizen… a perfect way to escape from Italy…

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On catching the flight to London on Thursday 6th January 1994, I recall my father telling me to think of myself as European, thanks to the opportunities given by the EU. I shrugged my shoulders, I just wanted to leave Italy, and be the maker of my own destiny in a different country, far away from the pressure and expectations of my family.

Once in the UK, I settled, and integrated very quickly into British society; I went back to university and got an MPhil, followed by a PhD and then I started forging a career as a mechanical engineer. I became a British citizen in August 2009; by then, the UK had become my adoptive motherland where I had been able to live my life as I wanted and to fulfil my aspirations.

My dual nationality precluded me from working on some projects, so in August 2014 I decided to renounce my Italian citizenship, becoming a sole British national. I did not follow politics at the time; little did I know that this decision would eventually leave me trapped in a country which I would no longer recognise as my own.

I could regain my Italian citizenship, but I would have to permanently reside in Italy for one to two years. This is not an option for me, as I have spent most of my adult life in the UK, English is now my first language, and I have developed a strong network of close friends.

I never fitted in when I lived in Italy; further, the Italian economy and politics are in a difficult situation.

At the age of 51, I consider myself too old, and to have too many ties to move to a different country. I did my big move when I was 25, and why should I uproot myself again simply because of an advisory referendum four years ago?

After the 2016 referendum and after Trump was elected as President of the United States, I began to get involved with political activism. This has now become my way of life. I now have a surrogate family of activists with whom I have campaigned against both Brexit, and the injustices of the current Tory government. If I left the UK, I would have to leave them behind.

I take comfort from the fact that part of my family fought against the fascists during World War 2. May their actions be an inspiration to me and give me courage in my activism.

My cousin Alessandra (who loved and watched the British sitcoms with me) sadly died in November 2018 after a lifelong battle with anorexia, and anxiety. She was a free spirited, and sensitive soul always standing up for the victims of injustice. When I visit her grave in Italy, I imagine her laughing at my campaigning antics, and I take inspiration from her.

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