Listening to Italy
Orecchiette read the web versions of all the serious Italian press on 29 March 2017:“La Brexit” day.
There were other pressing domestic issues but La Brexit received extensive coverage; the Italian media is less parochial than in the UK. La Repubblica streamed the 29 March Commons debate live, and the sparse attendance was a shameful response to their interest. The website runs a daily selection of videos and their first four covered Brexit. One illustrated the 2 year exit timetable with some predictable visuals. However, there were frequent juxtapositions of the chambers of The House of Commons and The EU, making the point that the UK’s looked antediluvian while the other appeared purposeful and organised. The next video didn’t help this impression; as it was Lord Fowler’s speech from the grand and robed House of Lords.
The fourth video was even more pointed. A clip of Theresa May laughing during one of the Wednesday PM’s Questions in the Commons had been edited to make her look as if she was shaking manically with hysterical laughter. It was interspersed with laughing cartoon characters, ending with a cadaverous skull in a big sinister black cape and headlined: “The diabolical laugh of Theresa May”.
La Repubblica also showed the front pages of eleven UK papers for 29 March. The Guardian’s leader (also reprinted by huffingtonpost.it) showed a jigsaw map of Europe. The UK, including Northern Ireland’s pieces had been removed and in the white space was “Today Britain steps into the unknown”. The second front page was The Sun and superimposed on Dover’s white cliffs was “SEE EU LATER”. The Express, front page number 10, was also shown being waved by Farage in the lead article in huffingtonpost.it. That was headed: “Nigel Farage enjoys and toasts Brexit”.
La Stampa illustrated an article about worried resident Italians in London with a display of plastic Big Bens being sold off cheaply: SPECIAL OFFER: WAS £25 – NOW £12.99. There were two articles (Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica) about Sarah Vine’s Mail article on May and Sturgeon’s legs – in the words of Corriere the “sexist gaffe”. It was pointed out that the Italian press dealt effectively with backward sexism like this and there was disbelief that it had been written by another woman. La Repubblica ran as a reprise the Twitter post showing Cameron, Corbyn and Gove in shorts plus a grossly overweight, pink flowered bottom half of buffoon Boris Johnson.
There was also some well aimed verbal irony. Corriere della Sera‘s headline ran “The letter was delivered, Brexit was initiated. May: ‘it is the moment to stand united’ “. Guido Petrangelli and Roberto Adriani, Senior Partner at Heritage House wrote about the 26 March Treaty of Rome London march in Huffingtonpost.it. They made the remarkable and significant point that no other European country had made such a strong demonstration in Europe’s support. That piece was illustrated with an image of Theresa May in front of a banner saying “A Country that works for Everyone”. It was amusing to see another headline mentioning the curvature of bananas – one of the myths trumpeted by the anti-EU tabloid press.
The images all speak forcibly, making points that couldn’t be expressed in words. The UK was being shown as confident, arrogant, even naive, and certainly insensitively unaware of its image within Europe. The reporting on 29 March was peppered with May’s phrases such as : “We won’t look back, it is an opportunity for us”, “We leave the Union, not European Values”. Invariably they were followed up by phrases such as: “Merkel and Holland: “It will be sad for the British” (Il Fatto Quotidiano), “The EU won’t be generous with London: no free market and a quick transition” (Corriere della Sera) and from the financial pages of La Repubblica: “The bill for Brexit – the exit from the EU will be worse for London than the EU”. This quote was illustrated by an unfortunate photo of the top half of Theresa May’s head that looked as if she was sinking under a sheet of water.
Obviously the Italian press wants to focus on itself in a positive light. However there will be many uncertainties and, as the phrase goes, many unknown unknowns. Il Fatto Quotidiano also ran a timetable for Brexit entitled: “Stages of the Divorce” noting the two looming political uncertainties that will impact on the final settlement. These are the French elections on 23 April (and the likely second vote on 7 May), then the German elections on 24 September. On a personal level the Italians in London that La Stampa interviewed were saying that there was a climate of uncertainty and they don’t know what will happen. They were trying to keep calm. The feeling is general.
The financial press has a sharper focus. There were two references to Ryan Air who are threatening not to fly to the UK if the current Open Skies agreement doesn’t continue. La Stampa ran an article on the 28 March that itemised the current contributions of 9 EU countries to the EU and how the exit of the UK and its E20,522 billion would decrease available funds. Italy would be expected to have to increase its payments by 1.3 billion euros. It was a short piece, with limited qualification, but it would have been able to act as a frightener for budget-limited Italy and its citizens.
La Stampa headed a video with “BREXIT: today is the start of the struggle that electrifies and frightens London”. However, wallstreetitalia ran a long article examining the possible financial consequences of the UK exit with greater objectivity. Although their visual header, of a series of stars and a Euro in pieces, appeared to have been infected by Trumpish anti Euro-ism. They stated that the EU won’t concede free-trade “with London”. They do believe that a hard-Brexit (a new euro-phrase) will not be to the benefit of the UK’s finance and fintech industries. There were also two articles about Milan positioning itself as The finance City of Europe – a building has been identified already.
Who knows where we go from here? Particularly as in Nicola Sturgeon’s words, in Il Fatto Quotidiano, “We are not a United Kingdom”. Finally, from the SUN headline: “DOVER AND OUT”.