In the latest tirade in his ongoing war of words with Brussels, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister raged someone at the European Union “has obviously done something wrong” if a country as important as Britain can exit the bloc. The UK is currently the fifth largest economy in the world and the second largest behind Germany in Europe with annual GDP of £2.1 trillion. But the Brexit process will see Britain exit the bloc – with our without a deal – on March 29, 2019 before entering a proposed 21-month transition period until the end of December 2020.
On Sunday, the UK and EU agreed the text for the Withdrawal Agreement following a specially arranged summit of the remaining EU27 leaders in Brussels.
But speaking to Italian news agency Adnkronos, Matteo Salvini said: “If people vote, the result must always be respected, but Europe now needs self-examination because, in any case, Great Britain was one of the countries that had the most advantages as part of the Union and it kept its own currency.
“So if a country as important as them has decided to exit the EU, someone in Brussels has obviously done something wrong.”
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Mr Salvini said he had held talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Foreign Affairs Minister Enzo Moavero over how Italy can move forward after Brexit and protect hundreds of thousands of Italians living and working in Britain.
He added: “What interests me now is to protect the 700 thousand Italians who are there and the Italian companies that work in the UK.
“They made their choice and it was right to support them.”
This latest attack comes after he and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio reiterated they will not bow to EU pressure over its budget plan for 2019, despite earlier hinting at a softened stance.
The Italian government vowed to stick to its main spending goals for next year while awaiting for a cost analysis of its spending measures.
But Rome insisted it remains open to the idea of eventually lowering the controversial deficit target and keeping dialogue open with EU chiefs, who have already rejected the fiscal plans and accused Italy of breaching spending commitments.
Mr Conte, Mr Salvini and Mr Di Maio, met yesterday to discuss the budget and potential disciplinary action from Brussels.
They said in a joint statement: “The objectives that have already been fixed are confirmed.
“As far as the on-going discussions with European institutions are concerned, we agreed to wait for the technical analysis of the proposed reforms which have the most important social impact to quantify precisely the cost.”
Mr Salvini suggested Rome could be braced to back down to EU demands as he declared the deficit target, which is currently set at 2.4 percent for next year, could be moved.
He said: “I think nobody is fixated on this, if there is a budget which makes the country grow, it could be 2.2 percent or 2.6 percent.
“The problem is not about decimal points, it’s a question of seriousness and being concrete.”
Italy’s latest defiant stance comes as European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Pierre Moscovici suggested he was open to further negotiation over the controversial budget.
Speaking at a press conference in Paris, he said: “I have never been a partisan of sanctions, I think sanctions are always a failure. I have always been in favour of flexibility.
He added “the door remains open and the hand outstretched” to Italy, and continued: We must seek with all our strength shared solutions in the interest of Italians and the eurozone.”
But Mr Moscovici made clear this shouldn’t been seen as a softening of its stance on Italy’s budget, which it still sees as extremely high risk to an economy already with the second largest debt in the eurozone behind Greece.
He said: “We continue to think that the Italian budget entails risks for companies, investors and Italian citizens.
“This risk has a name: it is called debt at 130 percent of GDP.”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.