TURIN — Now that the UK must face the Brexit reality, nobody here in Italy is celebrating — not even those who had initially popped the champagne.
Let's take, for example, Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-European Union, anti-immigrant League party. On June 23, 2016, the day of the historic referendum in the United Kingdom, the man who has since risen to Interior Minister, had rejoiced: "Long live the courage of free citizens! Heart, head and pride beat lies, threats and blackmail. Thanks UK, now it's our turn," he'd tweeted. Almost three years later, Salvini is silent on the issue.
Same goes for Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), allies in the coalition government with Salvini's League. In a blog post titled "The EU has to change or it dies — word to the citizens," he wrote: "The most expensive path to the M5S, asking citizens to give an opinion on the most decisive topics." Given the results, it may have been better not to ask for that opinion at all. Perhaps British politicians should have taken responsibility for the "remain" or "leave" choices, rather than confining it to citizens who cannot fully assess all of its implications. In either case, right now the UK would not be humbly asking, hat in hand, for an extension on the deadline to leave the Union.
Matteo Salvini on the campaign trail last year. — Photo: Lega Salvini Premier
The dream of leaving Europe is turning into a nightmare. Her Majesty's subjects wanted to take their destiny back into their hands, expel the too many Italian and Spanish dishwashers, assert full "British" sovereignty without all those constraints imposed by Brussels. Instead, they now risk loosening their hold on Northern Ireland (if, implementing the so-called "backstop", the border with the EU were drawn in the middle of the Irish Sea); or they could trigger a new civil war, in case the physical border with Ireland was restored. Perhaps voters hadn't thought about it enough. Whatever the reason, that ill-calculated desire for sovereignty could actually make the British less masters in their home. But this is not the only paradox.
Among those invoking more sovereignty, the idea was shared that shaking off Europe would be a walk in the park. For the UK and also for Italy, if it came to that. Almost two years of fruitless negotiations demonstrate exactly the opposite: There is no hope of leaving as if nothing had happened, maintaining the advantages of the Union without, however, assuming the negative consequences.
British negotiators have come up against a wall, similar to what happens in a condominium meeting if a tenant goes against the other 27: "You don't want immigrants? Then no free circulation of goods and capital. You don't like the EU rules? No problem. You'll have to pay the duties. Could you have thought of that before? Of course, but now it's too late."
Our luck in Italy, compared to the British, is that a referendum on the Union would have not been allowed here, since it is forbidden by the Constitution, article 75. When our fathers included that clause, they saved us a lot of trouble.
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