Britain’s new ambassador to Italy Jill Morris speaks to Wanted in Rome.
Wanted in Rome. Ambassador, like British residents in Italy, even Italians are worried about Brexit. Would you like to talk about this and what, in your opinion, does the statement “We are leaving the European Union but we are not going to leave Europe” mean?
Ambassador Morris. The first thing that I would like to say is that we recognise that the result of the referendum was not the one wished for by a lot of our Italian friends and colleagues. It’s important for us to acknowledge that there has been disappointment, sadness and some anger at the decision. At the same time I have found a real respect for the democratic process and I have also found a desire to be pragmatic about the way forward and that’s what makes me very optimistic. It’s in our interest to work together very closely. My government has always said that it wants to have the closest relationship possible with the European Union and with its members whilst being outside of the EU. Italy and the UK have a long-standing relationship. Trade is a big part of it but also political and security exchanges are crucial. The work we do together in the UN, in NATO and in the G20 and next year’s G7 are areas of fantastic collaboration to make the world a safer place. Furthermore the prime minister and the foreign secretary have often stated that “we are leaving the EU but we are not going to leave Europe” to underline how the EU is the regional organisation that brings together the member nations but Europe is a concept that is even bigger than the EU and we will of course be part of Europe because we could not be anything else.
Wanted in Rome. Do you think Brexit is going to be the main subject of your time in office or do you think they are going to be other issues as well?
Ambassador Morris. Clearly it’s going to be one big issue especially during Brexit negotiations. The way we work together will change but not what we work on. Negotiations are going to be a big focus, and potentially difficult, but I think we must all keep a positive vision and keep working together on main global issues.
Wanted in Rome. You are Britain’s first woman ambassador to be appointed to Italy. Do you think that will make a difference?
Ambassador Morris. I’m very proud and honoured to be the first woman British ambassador to Italy and San Marino. Let me say that I’ve discovered great woman colleagues here in Rome and also in the Italian political system. I think that diversity is really important, in any organisation. All research shows that organisations that are more diverse in terms of gender balance are the most successful ones. I would see my appointment as part of the wider programme that the Foreign Office is developing.
Wanted in Rome. 2016 was a very important year for British culture, with global Shakespeare celebrations. Will the British embassy be involved in promoting other major cultural events in 2017?
Ambassador Morris. It was a big and important year for us globally, particularly between UK and Italy. We share so much culturally and there is going to be a big focus on what we admire and love about each other’s cultures. Watch this space because we are going to be announcing some “Culture is Great” activities for next year, working with the British School in Rome, the British Council and great Italian institutions such as MAXXI.
Wanted in Rome. We are here in your wonderful residence, Villa Wolkonsky. The wife of your predecessor undertook a great refurbishment of the gardens. Do you have any plans to open them to the public?
Ambassador Morris. Nina Prentice did a magnificent job with the gardens, which is a wonderful asset for us. We are not planning to open the residence to the general public, however we are a very active embassy and when we have events in the residence we always try to organise tours of the gardens.
Wanted in Rome. Recently Italy has been hit by a number of very strong earthquakes. The damage has been terrible. Does the UK government have any plans to support reconstruction efforts?
Ambassador Morris. Let me first of all express our condolences from the very highest government levels. Messages from the Queen and from the prime minister have been transmitted to Italy. Coverage in Great Britain has been very intense. Immediately after Amatrice we offered advice and support in areas where we felt we might have some expertise but Italy of course is expert in these situations. All you have to do is look at the magnificent job done by the Protezione Civile and the Vigili del Fuoco to see that we have nothing to teach to Italy.
Wanted in Rome. What is the purpose of the current survey you are promoting online among British expats? Is the survey being carried out only in Italy and is it being undertaken within a Brexit context?
Ambassador Morris. We traditionally have not had a systematic contact with British residents as they are very well integrated and they don’t need to register with us. We just thought that in the Brexit context that we would want to test if people wanted more communication with us, and what kind of communication. The survey is not compulsory and it’s for us to gauge the market particularly when the negotiations start. Given your audience I would want to underline my government’s clear statement that we would want to respect and protect the rights of Italians living and working in the UK. There is only one condition for that and that’s the right that UK nationals are respected in Italy.
Wanted in Rome. Do you have any particular spot you like in Rome and is your very good Italian a result of a personal stay in Siena? If it is, do you prefer Tuscan or Roman dishes?
Ambassador Morris. I started to study Italian in London and at the end of May I went to Siena to the Dante Alighieri School for six wonderful weeks. It’s a kind of tradition as my predecessor went there as well. I was also lucky enough to be introduced to the Palio. I must say the food in Tuscany is just incredible. I very much intend to explore every “angolo” of your “Belpaese”. Wherever you go in Italy you’ll find great food and traditions. In the last three months I’ve really loved walking around the Foro Romano area. It’s marvellous; you can really feel the history of it. I also had a tour around MAXXI with President Melandri and I think it’s a wonderful space. I was also at Villa Medici, it’s spectacular, along with Galleria Doria Pamphilj which just makes you speechless. I also love the three Caravaggios that are in S. Luigi dei Francesi. They are just sublime. Trastevere is a really cool area and I’ve been going to many events of Romaeuropa in Testaccio, a really nice area. I’m delighted I have four years in which to explore.
Wanted in Rome. Is there any message you would like to send to our readers?
Ambassador Morris. On Brexit, the article 50 and the High Court ruling. The government is disappointed and therefore it is appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. The government remains determined to respect the will of the British people. The important thing now is to focus on forging a bold, ambitious, outward-looking future for the UK, and our global role.
This interview was published in the December 2016 edition of Wanted in Rome magazine.