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Author: Alex Wilding

Lament for Great Britain

I am angry.

Perhaps it’s against my religion – but I am angry.

I am angry that three years ago I was not allowed a vote in the referendum, because I live in Europe.

I am angry that a referendum – the one about taking away my citizenship as a European – was called for any reason, let alone just in the hope of settling a Tory party squabble.

I am angry about the lies that were told to confuse good people, with genuine concerns about Europe, into thinking that the best solution was to leave.

But they wanted their little Brexit. They wanted Britain to be small again.

I am angry that such a pig’s breakfast has been made of the negotiations.

I am angry that people like Boris “piccaninnies” Johnson was made Foreign Secretary. I am angry that Boris “fuck business ” Johnson is still afforded any space on the political stage.

I am angry that Andrea “broadcasters should be more patriotic” Leadsom is afforded space on the political stage next to Liam “ministerial code breaker” Fox and Chris “couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery but would manage to spend millions on it” Grayling. Who are these goons?

But they want their snivelling Brexit. They want Britain to be mean again.

I am angry that Theresa “hostile environment” May became Prime Minister of a once-great country just because she was the one who had expressed her views less clearly than anyone else.

I am angry that Theresa “my way or highway” May clings so hard to her little Brexit, and that she is willing to countenance a “no-deal” exit for even one second.

I am angry that Theresa “my deal or no deal” May puts the mean and uncaring wing of her party above jobs, above health services, above the lives of immigrants, of expats and of simple citizens, above trade, above security, above business, above industry, above education and above compassion.

But she wants her wretched Brexit. Who cares about consequences?

I am angry that those who place so much store by the “will of the people” are frightened to let the people speak on whether this is what they voted for.

I am angry that the little-Englanders created the impression that the referendum, small as the majority was, had binding force. Legal judgement is that it cannot be voided, in spite of all the irregularities in the campaigning, because it was never binding in the first place. It is not a thing that can be rescinded. It was a mere expression of opinion, and a half-hearted one at that.

I am angry that those who argue that there should not be another referendum because it means asking the same question again and again until you get the right answer nevertheless want to ask Parliament to vote yet again on the twice-rejected deal in the hope of getting the answer that they want.

But they want their scrofulous Brexit. They want to go back to their small-minded, walled-in Little Wet Island, their Little Britain.

There is only one way out:


To put it another way:


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…

New Year’s sky

OK, it’s actually the fourth of January. I’m putting the picture here so that if anyone is really, really interested they can click through to see the full-size picture in which Mercury is visible as well as Venus and the sliver of 29th-day-of-the-lunar-month moon.

The rather obvious moral of the picture is that although the hard reality of the electricity pole may catch the eye first, the vast sky, moon and planets are still there; we may be concerned with the nuts and bolts of life, but the sky-like mind is still there behind it all.

A Brexit puzzle

No, not the one about “why did we ever…?” This:

Let’s think of an election, perhaps a general election. A vital part of our democratic process, of course. Usually it’s a two-horse race with a few also-rans, so let’s just concentrate on the two main parties, and call them left and right. One side wins, the other loses, everybody respects the result. It is, after all, binding. The winners form a government, the losers form an opposition. Democracy, in a word.

But here’s the thing. Do the losers – the left, for example – now say this:

“Oh, how sad, the people have spoken, and it’s the will of the people that the rotten righties (or the loony lefties, if it’s the other way round) have won the day. Now we must give up, drop our objections and principles, and join in support of their policies so that they can make the best possible job of what the people have chosen!”

Of course not. The opposition fights to stop what it considers the worst policies from being implemented. If it cannot block them, it fights to change and modify them. It works to change public opinion. It hopes that the electorate will change its mind and vote the other way next time round. That’s democracy.

So why do I still keep hearing that campaigning to stop Brexit is undemocratic? That referendum was, as we now all know, non-binding. It was no more than an augmented opinion poll. Why is it somehow more sacred than the result of the general election, when the plain fact is that it is, and always was, less significant. It was merely advisory.

We all respect the result of a general election, even when our favourite side loses. That does not, and should never, mean that we stop campaigning for the policies we think right, against those we think wrong, and to change decisions we believe harmful. Why then does “respecting the result” of the Brexit poll mean that we have to simply swallow it and shut up?

Brexit was born as an internal Tory squabble. It span out of control (thank you, David Cameron), and now is well on the way to becoming reality. Meanwhile the electorate wakes up more and more what a pup they have been sold, how much money the ordinary person will lose, how many businesses will fold, how much services will suffer, how many rights they will lose.

A ship of fools is exporting our wealth and our actual power in today’s world, to trade for an illusory “sovereignty”. A sovereignty that’s good for nothing except putting a grin on the faces of the right wing of the Tory party, and allowing Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and their friends to say “we won”.

Yes, it’s late in the day. Getting the political will together to cancel article 50 will be difficult. But it is the democratic right and the patriotic duty of remainers to stand up and say “STOP BREXIT”.

Kathmandu trip

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing up “what I did on my holidays” in Kathmandu this April. It’s on this site, but not on this blog. You’ll find it through the menu above, or simply here.


Donny, Theresa and the Brexit effect

In her attempt to pretend that there is enough other “free trade” out there in the world to compensate for the financial hit to the UK (lower wages and higher prices, to you and me) that Wrexit will cause, we have seen Theresa May cosying up to a variety of questionable characters, most notably the xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic, serial-bankrupt, short-sighted, bizarrely-yet-in-fact president Trump.

What does she want? A “free trade” agreement. But tariffs are already low, so what does that mean? One obvious part of the answer is that the UK will have to accept food made to shoddy American standards – chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-injected beef reared on gigantic feed-lots, unlabelled GMO ingredients, meat from animals reared with techniques not permitted in Europe. The list goes on. If you want confirmation, or want to know more, you know how to use a search engine. It’s not entirely hidden, in spite of American gagging laws against whistleblowing in intensive farming, the “ag-gag” laws.

It has to stop!

When spin approaches lie

When is that?

In Theresa May’s  speech to Republicans she is expected to say that “… as we end our membership of the European Union – as the British people voted with determination and quiet resolve to do last year – we have …” (The sentence goes on with more waffle-words like ” sovereign and global Britain”.)

“Determination and quiet resolve…” – where ever does she get that from? Last year’s campaign is acknowledged by all sides to have been divisive and bitter. It was led by fools, fuelled by lies and by appeals to base instincts. It has left the spirit of Great Britain weaker, more narrow-minded and meaner than it was. On that sad day, a small majority (37.4% of the electorate, about 27% of the population) voted to leave.

The result appalled many of those who wanted to remain, and who are still fighting against the damage. The whole thing was, as is well known, fired by the internal politics of the Conservative party, the Eurosceptics who never managed to accept that Britain is and was part of Europe. Britain chose to join the European project, voting in favour in the 1975 referendum by 67% to 33%. But would the Eurosceptics accept the will of the people and get on with it? Of course they didn’t.

The recent referendum, recommending that Britain should leave the EU, was won by a relatively tiny margin. Indeed, the result is so marginal that Theresa May herself is campaigning and voting against the wishes of her own constituency, who voted to remain.

I fully accept that the words of a speech may describe things in a light that may not be shared by all, and it is both normal and proper to embed and suggest an opinion in the way we describe something. Try these:

“Her decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her bold decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her rash decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her brave decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her foolish decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her foolhardy decision to move to Bristol…”
“Her stupid decision to move to Bristol…”
… and so forth.

But I suggest that to describe the rancorous salad of lies, personal attacks and misrepresentation that characterised the referendum campaign as a matter of “determination and quiet resolve” is so far out of tune with reality that it does border on a lie.

But then, it seems clear that she wants to cosy up to Donald Trump, so perhaps it’s simply a matter of horses for courses.

Fight for me, Teresa

Theresa May seems to be revealing herself as a Class One “say-whatever-you-think-people-will-like-to-hear-at-the-time,-and-preferably-in-words-that-are-vague-enough-not-to-be-falsifiable-later” merchant. After “Brexit means Brexit” (eh?) and “I want a red, white and blue Brexit” (uh?), she claims in her New Year’s message that she will fight the remainers’ case in Europe too.

Now, I am a remainer, or I would have voted to remain had the British government, in its wisdom, allowed me to have a say in my future. In any event, I think we should remain, and I rather suspect that now that the self-destructive, expensive stupidity of Brexit is becoming clear, many of those who voted to leave, for what seemed at the time to be valid reasons, will have changed their minds. Many must now see that they have been sold a pup, and all in the name of what Gove, Johnson, Farage and their ilk thought was their political advantage. In all probability those who wish to remain are now a majority, though only a second referendum will tell.

Therefore, Mrs May, I’d like to ask you what you mean; what is it that I, as a remainer, want that you will fight for? Oh, you don’t want to give a running commentary? Then it seems to be up to me to tell you what kind of Brexit would suit me.

I would like to be free to travel to any European country without worrying about visas, quotas, proving that I’m a fit person to enter that country and so forth.

If I so choose, and if there is an employer in that country who wants me, I would like to be free to work their without worrying about work permits, quotas, proving that my skills cannot be found amongst the native workforce and so forth.

Whether I work there or not, I would like to be free to invest in a European country of my choosing. Perhaps I might like to buy a house there without worrying about capital controls? Perhaps I might like to buy shares in a German company without the same sort of worry?

If I so choose, I would like to be free to reside in that country as long as I wish – to live there, in short.

I would like to be free to trade throughout Europe. In my case, as a translator, it is services that I would like to trade, without worrying about tax barriers and so forth. But I might like to be free to, for example, sell the second-hand flute that I bought some years ago in Ireland to someone in, for example, Britain or Germany, without worrying about tax, customs declarations and so forth.

Oh, and while we were about it, I wouldn’t mind if the laws that governments (of every stripe, admittedly) are occasionally tempted to bring in on the matters above, in the hope of satisfying some portion of the electorate, were overseen by a body with a longer-term, less partisan view. The European Court of Justice, for example.

If you successfully fight for all these, then we will have a Brexit that I would be happy to live with, and even happy to call red, white and blue or any other colour combination that is fashionable at the time. Johnson, Gove and Farage could then dance, cackling, around their Brexit cauldron, proclaiming that they “won”, while the rest of us could get on with living our lives in the most prosperous way possible. That’s difficult enough as it is, after all.

As you will probably realise, at the moment I already have all the freedoms that I have mentioned above. You, in the name of what it is now surely reasonable to suspect is a minority of voters to whom the name “the people” has somehow become attached, seem to want to remove those rights.

It could also be reasonably argued that my version of Brexit, outlined above, is not Brexit at all. Fair comment. But which of those things are you actually going to fight for? Just a tweed Brexit?


There could well be several reasons why Teresa May is not willing to say what her Wrexit plan is. The obvious one is that the government hasn’t got one. It may have a flag, but it doesn’t have a plan. Another reason, almost as obvious, is that whatever plan the government has will alienate a lot of people. If it’s a soft Brexit, it will alienate the swivel-eyed Rees-Mogg, Fox, Farage, “leave Europe at any price” brigade. If it’s a hard Wrexit it will alienate everybody who is affected by anything from the availability of jobs to the price of a bag of sprouts. (Not to mention all the taxes that will have to be raised to foot the bill.Oops, mentioned it – sorry!) If it’s an in-between Brexit it will alienate practically everybody.

She is faced by the awkward question of whether Wrexit will be hard, soft, or in between.  Any of those three answers would be bad, and it is still politically impossible for a lot of people to say that the best answer would be the unspoken fourth one – no Brexit at all. To muddy the waters, she seems to have come up  with another idea. Instead of “post-truth”, she is now going for “post-meaning”. The recurring problem with most “post-truth” is that it often still has a meaning, even if that meeting is a malicious lie. The beauty of a “red, white and blue Brexit” is that it means absolutely nothing at all, possibly even less than the famous “Brexit means Brexit”, which does at least carry a strong suggestion that something will happen.

Here, by the way, are some of the guiding lights: what could possibly go wrong?