On February 14th 2018 Raffaele Trombetta presented his letters of credence to HM Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace and was officially recognised by Her Majesty’s government as the new representative of Italy to St James’s Court.
His Excellency Ambassador Trombetta was born in 1960 and obtained a degree in political sciences from the University of Naples and a Master’s in European Studies from the London School of Economics. This is his second posting to London after serving as consul from 1990 to 1995. From 2013 to 2016 he was ambassador to Brazil and in 2016 became head of cabinet of the then-minister of foreign affairs, Paolo Gentiloni. He was G7 and G20 sherpa for the Italian prime minister last year.
You’ve been the Italian ambassador—representing Italy at St. James’s Court in London—for a few months now. Is this an interesting time for you?
Yes, very interesting. Brexit is interesting on two levels for a diplomat. There’s the deal itself and understanding how the British government is going to manage that specifically. And also because we are currently defining the relationship between Great Britain and Europe, and, therefore, between Italy and Great Britain. The relationship between the two countries is excellent. The important thing is to preserve that relationship.
You worked in Great Britain for four years as consul from 1991 and 1995 and then worked in Brussels as a representative to the European Union for four years. What do you think about what is happening now?
Brexit is here and is not going away, and I don’t believe we can turn back. It is in our best interests that the deal has a positive outcome. The deal in terms of how the exit will occur, and considering that our main commitment is that all European and Italian citizens are protected as much as possible. It is also important to establish our future relationship as much as possible. This will depend on the conditions of the deal.
Do you feel like the political class in Great Britain is having a moment of weakness and that the country is facing a great deal of uncertainty?
Brexit has certainly divided the country. This divide still remains, and there is opposition from some of the political parties. My impression is that people now see the Brexit decision as a reality, and the country wants the deal to be completed in the best possible way.
“Our main task now is to maintain the relationship between the two countries.”
The Italian ambassador to the Court of St. James, His Excellency Raffaele Trombetta.
With the recent Russian-spy drama and the tug of war between Great Britain and Russia, do you think that Teresa May is in a stronger position now compared to Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party?
Teresa May took a strong stance for the country and its allies, and this, without a doubt, strengthened her leadership. In addition to measures enacted on the domestic front, she also accepted support from our main allies, including Italy. Corbyn has divided his party and conditions have remained the same. Recently, he clarified his position better in an interview with the Guardian. He says he shared Prime Minister May’s initial position but says that she rushed to an outcome too quickly.
After the recent election, Italy is now trying to form a new government. What is an ambassador’s role in this?
We aren’t politically appointed, as we are state employees. There is no concern about the stability of Italy in the United Kingdom. Certainly, there’s some regret but not concern. Nothing changes for us. Our main task now is to maintain the relationship between the two countries. We will continue to promote business, scientific, and cultural events between the two countries.
How many Italians live in Great Britain?
Between London and Edinburgh, there are about 350,000 registered Italians. If we include those Italians not registered, we estimate that number to be closer to 700,000.
Have you seen any concern in the Italian community for the future after Brexit?
We’ve seen a spike in new registrations after Brexit.
Is there concern?
Of course there is concern about what will happen with the Brexit deal, and if Italians here will have fewer rights. It isn’t yet possible to talk about whether there has been a slowdown in new arrivals, but we sense that this may be a trend. There is definitely uncertainty among some Italians who are questioning whether they should return to Italy. This is why it is important to define specific rights for European citizens. We have periodic meetings to inform our citizens on this matter.
Considering that Italian workers are very much appreciated in the United Kingdom, is this uncertainty a concern for the English, and is this an important aspect of the deal?
It is an important point. The British are sensitive to this issue and there is interest in finding a solution that guarantees that citizens who are already residents can maintain the same rights.
“We are trying to offer up the Italian lifestyle, even at the highest levels.”
How do you plan to carry out your work? What are your priorities?
The bilateral agreements won’t change even in a post-Brexit future. The most important thing is to continue to strengthen this on all collaborative fronts. We have more than ten billion euros in surplus. There are a great number of Italian companies, high-level cultural collaborations and, most recently, an extraordinary Modigliani exhibition currently on show at the Tate Gallery. Then there is a vast network of highly qualified researchers; there are more than six thousand researchers in the universities and research centres. The long tradition of British tourism to Italy continues—in 2017, there were about two million British visitors to Italy. We are trying to offer up the Italian lifestyle, even at the highest levels. Recently, Christie’s put Italian “Grand Cru” wines on the auction block, the first auction of its kind in thirty-three years.
What about the Italian language in London?
There is an Italian school in London, an Italian cultural institute in London with more than 2,000 students last year. The British Council has proclaimed Italian to be one of the ten most important languages in the country.
H.M. Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, visits Giorgio Napolitano, President of Italy, in April 2014.
The Italian Cultural Institute in London’s Belgrave Square offers events and provides Italian language services.
Italian restaurants in London offer fine dining. This is a dish at Locanda Locatelli
Ambassador Raffaele Trombetta with his wife Victoria, a British citizen.
Amedeo Modigliani Nude 1917 (detail) Private Collection, on show at Tate Modern.
Bersano, Barolo Riserva Speciale Cremosina 1958, was offered for sale at Christie’s in London, September 2017.
“Teresa May said that this is the first time a chemical weapon has been used in Europe since 1945.”
Do you think the current crisis between England and Russia is a significant issue?
Because it is in everyone’s best interest to maintain an open line of communication with Russia, what happened in Salisbury is seen as a serious issue. Prime Minister May called this an “attack on British soil” in the House of Commons, also mentioning the invasion of Crimea and the cyber attacks carried out by Russians. Teresa May said that this is the first time a chemical weapon has been used in Europe since 1945. She said it isn’t just a situation involving spies, but an attack on his daughter and other people as well.
Ambassador, what was it like meeting Queen Elizabeth for the first time? When you had to present yourself and your credentials.
A wonderful experience. I believe the queen has a gift for always making her guests feel comfortable. In any case, the meeting only lasted about thirty minutes. We spoke about culture, opera, and art, and then the queen mentioned her meetings with President Mattarella and President Napolitano. Queen Elizabeth showed a great deal of interest in Italy and Italian culture, and she said she hoped I would travel and get to know Great Britain. She was quite spry and on top form.
You lived in London for four years in the nineteen-nineties. How do you find London today?
I find it to be a vibrant city, and I don’t see any impact from Brexit. It was already vibrant in the nineteen-nineties, but now it is much more so.
London, March 2018
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