20 Years in London: A European Expat in England and Brexit

london taxi

 The year is 2016. It’s a leap year. It’s the year when Bowie and Prince died. It’s when the UK voted to exit from the European Union.

I remember my first ever commute when I arrived in London in 1995: overground train from Maryland, change for the Central Line at Liverpool Street, change at Holborn for the Piccadilly Line for Russell Square to go to the British Library (I know, you don’t really need to change at Holborn for one stop, you can walk it from there but at the time I was clueless!). I was preparing my dissertation on British colonialism as part of my Political Studies degree.
The British Library used to be annexed to the British Museum. The smell of books was inebriating. I miss that place which will stay forever etched in my memory.

I came back in 1996 to live in London permanently. I fell in love with its culture of diversity and open-mindedness. You were free to be who you wanted to be. In my native Italy, you had to conform, get married and have children. You needed to get a “job for life”. People would judge you for the clothes you wore. You needed a recommendation (a local politician’s would be ideal) to get that job for life. Well, I did not want an average life. I wanted to explore all possibilities.

In 20 years I changed 10 jobs and 7 houses before starting my business. I loved a good change of scenery. I still do.

I took advantage of the European Union’s free movement of people principle. I had never been happier. I worked in jobs I could only dream of in Italy, including working in the British civil service (well, that was my parent’s dream, not mine). I gained a Master’s Degree in European Studies at the University of Canterbury (that was my dream all along). I feel European first and a citizen of the world second. Learning about colonialism taught me that national boundaries are meaningless (especially as British Empire contracts were often signed by colonies with “X” as some chiefs didn’t read and write).

I have worked with people of all nationalities. It prompted me to learn their languages and broaden my horizons.

I have raised money for charity, paid taxes and took part in volunteering projects.

When I watched a BBC Panorama programme on why people voted to leave the EU, two of the reasons were that immigrants were stealing jobs and that they did not integrate into British society. I beg to differ.

I’m an Alien, I’m a Legal (?) Alien, I’m a European in London

20 years is a long time to spend in one place. The Brexit vote felt like a stab in the heart and I am still grieving. If the pound value keeps dropping and with the risk of the British economy to shrink, we might be heading for another recession. This would be the fourth recession I have experienced in my adult life. I am not looking forward to yet more austerity. Sure, I am learning to become more self-sufficient with my foraging and home cooking, but who wants a hand-to-mouth existence in middle age?

I arrived in the UK during the economic boom of “Cool Britannia”. I miss those times.
Now the UK feels more provincial and backward-looking.
The European Union has ensured several decades of peace and good standards of living. There’s no such thing as living in isolation in today’s interconnected world. The only prospect I can envisage for the UK cutting itself off from the rest of Europe is to go back to the 1970s, the supposed golden age pre-European Economic Community: say hello to power cuts, high inflation and high unemployment.