The UK and Italy: A Renewed partnership for a Post Referendum Britain

Flickr, Moyan Brenn, Venice

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend a talk in Venice about post-Brexit Britain, held by the British Ambassador for Italy, Ms Jill Morris.

In front of a British/Italian audience she outlined a prospective future for an ‘internationally’ active Britain operating outside the European Union. Whilst she made her personal opinions on the Brexit debate clear she took a very professional approach. She made no attempt to apologise for Brexit or justify the countries decision to leave. Morris emphasised her desire to foster and maintain the relationship Britain has with EU nations, echoing the Italian Prime minister Matteo Rensi, in saying that the UK needed to be the ‘best friend of the European Union’.

Morris passionately agreed that Britain needed to remain close with its European friends, outlining the need to maintain positive relations with a strong and united European Union. Reinforcing that the decision to leave it was in no way a move towards fragmenting it.

Morris emphasised her desire to foster and maintain the relationship Britain has with EU nations

The well-established bilateral interactions between Britain and the other EU nations (I say other as we technically are still members) was something she readily commented on. Notably, and as stated, she focused on relationships between Britain and Italy and the ways these should continue to be managed.

She did offer some relatable and interesting information to highlight what the relationship between the two countries actually entailed, for instance that bilateral commercial links and trade between the two nations totalled around €35 billion a year. She further emphasised the close relationship through shared foreign policy and international aid, referencing UN involvement. It was also refreshing to note how these relationships were approached, with a light hearted and almost familial tone. The audience were rather amusingly made aware (given the post-talk refreshments) that Prosecco has overtaken Champagne in popularity in the UK. Interestingly it significantly contributes to the 300 million litres of wine imported annually from Italy to Britain. However, in her celebration of shared culture, she perhaps got a little carried away, as some of her links appeared rather tenuous, like her reference to Shakespeare’s plays as evidence of a well-established ‘cultural denominator’ between Italy and the UK.

But on a more serious note, the importance of Italy to the United Kingdom, is something which our Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed time and time again, with a post-Brexit Britain seeking to be ‘confident and credible partners on the international scene’.

The audience were rather amusingly made aware (given the post-talk refreshments) that Prosecco has overtaken Champagne in popularity in the UK.

Throughout, I was still left with doubts to how the Italian guests would react to a talk on Brexit. Would they see Britain as attempting to break away and feel resentment? Would they perhaps sympathise with the British decision? Or was there mere curiosity in how a Brexit inspired talk would be delivered outside of Britain? Given the questions asked and conversations with Italian guests it seemed a mixed bag, but generally there was little resentment.

Ms Morris during her question and answers session, skilfully avoid any tension through contextualising the British decision more broadly. She suggested that the sentiments calling for an exit from the European Union were not solely a British phenomenon. In this sense she projected general concerns regarding a lack of control, economic strife, migration and job concerns onto a European scene. Ms Morris’ contextualisation in many ways solidified the British concerns which caused Brexit, into a wider European thought.

Needless to say, I found Ms Morris’ talk to be the reassurance that Britain hadn’t chosen to leave the Europe and it was still very much a part of its culture and economy, if not so much its politics. Brexit was after all a political decision, and whether wrong or right, Jill Morris’ pragmatic approach to future decisions presented a lot of hope for a very much integrated Britain and Europe.

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