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Brexit panic (best not?)

With only three weeks to supposed Brexit day, some of us on an anglophone mailing list for people here in the Lunigiana have been checking out the last-minute options for Brits living here who have not got their paperwork in order. I have a few other contacts on Facebook who I think are in the same position, so here is an edited version of some of what I’ve been saying:

I have been following, though not terribly closely, a number of discussions about the situation that British citizens living here in Italy may find themselves in at the end of this month. It has been pointed out that those of us who have looked into it at all should perhaps stress to all our other expat friends that they may need to do something.

I have been made aware that there are at least a few people living here who are still essentially crossing their fingers. If you have it sorted, great, and I’m sure most of you have, but just in case you haven’t, please think about the below.

Italy, Spain, and perhaps some other countries have made relatively reassuring promises about what will happen to us in the event of a no deal, if Britain decides to leave the EU and go it alone. The number of countries in the world who are not in a major trading block has now become quite small, and we should realise that, in the event of a “no deal”, the United Kingdom will be essentially in the position of a third-party banana republic. (Although, perhaps not, because most republics in banana-growing areas have got themselves into at least some sort of trading block. So the UK’s position may be worse than theirs.)

Anyway, if the worst comes to the worst and Britain crashes out, and if Italy maintains its relatively generous stance, we should realise that the kindness that Italy will show will be extended to people who are resident here before crash-out day. It will not – and cannot – extend to people who take up residence after that date. Otherwise, what would Britain’s splendid new isolation mean?

So the question is this: are you officially and demonstrably resident? Do you have an “ATTESTAZIONE DI SOGGIORNO PERMANENTE PER I CITTADINI DELL’UNIONE EUROPEA”? It is conceivable that the rights conferred by this document may lapse when the UK goes walkabout looking for new friends in other parts of the world as it is no longer in the European Union. Nevertheless it is very important to have one of these documents, because it shows that you will be entitled to whatever rights are negotiated or offered in the post-Wrexit period. If you have been living here, perhaps more or less legally, but you haven’t got yourself properly documented as resident, then you may find the process of proving that you have a status that entitles you to whatever it is that we are entitled to may be a time-consuming, expensive, difficult pain in the dark place that we all have. Health care, anyone?

Bear in mind that the process of this registration, though not terribly difficult, is generally not instant; you have to get yourself to your comune, get them to tell you what documents you must bring, possibly make an appointment, and so forth. Time is now exceedingly short. If you can’t get it through by the end of the month, you may still be somewhat better off if you have documents showing that you were in the process of applying before cliff-jump day.

I’m actually not sure whether you need to first get an “ATTESTAZIONE DI ISCRIZIONE ANAGRAFICA DI CITTADINO DELL’UNIONE EUROPEA” first. If you haven’t even got that, your position may be trickier still, but I am no expert in these things. I only know that the time for us to behave like ostriches is over.

Much the same consideration applies to DRIVING LICENCES. I do myself know one or two people who are still driving around on British licences long after the stage at which they technically should have got it changed. And it may not have mattered all that much. But remember that after Mayday, your British driving licence will SIMPLY NOT BE VALID HERE. Apart from any penalties for which you may be liable as a result of driving around without a valid licence, you will no longer be able to simply exchange it, as you can now. You will have to take a test! In Italian! With a difficult written component! Because my wife is Australian, she had to do that, and I greatly admire her for it. Like me, however, you would probably prefer to avoid that process. There should be time to organize a swap before the end of the month.

Probably this is nothing new to most of you, but I felt duty bound to send out this “heads up”.


The second one simply says that you have registered the fact that you are living here. Brits are sometimes slow to grasp this, just as people from many other parts of Europe are astonished that in Britain we don’t have to be registered with the local authorities when you live somewhere. I seem to recall getting this particular document at a very early stage, and if I remember rightly the trail of bureaucracy was first that we were renting a car and wanted to buy one. To buy one I had to get an identity card, and to get an identity card I had to acquire the said registration, and that also required having a house number, which is not in fact necessary but when your own local official says that you’ve got to have one then you have to arrange for the comune to issue one. The house has been here for hundreds of years, but I don’t know that it been lived in for more than a few decades. Until we arrived it was one of the many SNC (senza numero civile – no house number) properties in the countryside here. The registration will normally involve a visit from the municipal police, possibly by appointment but maybe not, to check that you really are who you say you are that you are living where you say you are living.

I think the law says that you should get this first document within about three months of arriving. Because you can get by for a long time without it, people then get trapped into thinking that if they now go and apply for one they’ll be in trouble for leaving it too late. So they let it drift further and further. That is no longer a sensible option.

The first one (which you get much later in the process) says that you are not only resident here, but are actually allowed to be. Permanently. Unless, of course, the government of your country bizarrely decides to arbitrarily tear up your rights and throw away your European citizenship WITHOUT EVEN ALLOWING YOU TO TAKE PART IN THE VOTE. (Oops, that’s happening isn’t it?)

The second one may seem trivial, but we should think on this: if you haven’t got one then on 29 March the UK government will convert you from what you are now, which is a bumbling EU citizen who hasn’t quite got their paperwork in order, to a new status which is next door to being an illegal immigrant from a third country. True, with enough meetings, photocopies, declarations, tax stamps, certifications and so on you could probably argue your way out of that status. The Italian government may, we hope, be generous and a reasonable to people who are legally resident here on the day in just over three weeks time that this act of national self-harm finally opens a major blood vessel. But you will have a much harder time tapping into that hoped-for generosity if you haven’t even registered the fact that you are here.

One more point, which is actually good news! I was reminded of it after this discussion began:

it is relevant to those few who haven’t even got as far as the ATTESTAZIONE DI ISCRIZIONE ANAGRAFICA DI CITTADINO DELL’UNIONE EUROPEA, the one that says that you are actually resident here. You may be worried that it can take a few weeks for this to come through, and if it is then dated later than the 29th of this month your situation may be much more awkward than if you have one dated in time.

However, once you’ve got as far as submitting your application (along with whatever documents are required – I really have forgotten what the list is) you will, at the time, be given a “ricevuta” in the form of a flimsy strip of paper marked with scribble and a stamp. This can be vital, as it shows firstly that you have started the process of applying, and secondly it shows the day on which that process formally began.

So if in the meantime, before your registration comes through but after Mayday, you get picked up by the carabinieri as someone who may be here illegally (perhaps because they saw you snickering at their poncy uniform) you are covered. Assuming, that is, that the application does go through properly in the end and that you didn’t give the address of a washeteria as your home address in hope that nobody would notice. Or, more likely, if your government is a cack-handed bunch of nincompoops with a disgraceful track record of negotiation behind them but smiles on their faces because they don’t care about the people whose lives they are risking in order to use them as “negotiating chips”. You will be able to say that you were residing here before the Wrexit process bore its midget, sour and fly-blown fruit.

The upshot is that if you start today – or tomorrow, because the office is probably already closed today – get hold of your list of required documents and take them back the next time the office is open, you could have this receipt by the end of the week.

In case it helps anyone…

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