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2 Feb, 2018 13:56

EXCLUSIVE: Italy’s Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio says UK should stop being ‘punished’ over Brexit

EXCLUSIVE: Italy’s Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio says UK should stop being ‘punished’ over Brexit

The UK should stop being ”punished” for choosing to drop out of the EU, one of the frontrunners in Italy’s upcoming election has said in an exclusive interview with RT.

Luigi Di Maio, political leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), hit out at the EU’s attempt to undermine the Brexit cause. He suggested EU interests must be protected as much as UK ones.

Di Maio, 31, and who has been tipped to become Italy’s youngest prime minister, was speaking during a trip in London during which he planned to reassure investors on his party’s economic policies, were it to rise to power following the vote on March 4.

“Our interest is to first of all protect the hundreds of thousands of Italians currently living in the UK.

“There was one point where the EU wriggled out this conviction whereby the UK should be punished because of Brexit. I don’t think it should be punished.

“I think there is a single market, and there are advantages for who is in the EU, and disadvantages for who isn’t in it,” Di Maio told RT.

“We must safeguard the investments and give continuity to the economic relationships with the EU of the past years," adding “this must also be the case for the UK.”

The M5S leader then turned to Prime Minister Theresa May's landmark Brexit speech in Florence, saying he was pleased that the Tory leader had sought to reassure the Italian community over Brexit. Adding “Above all, we hope to have economic relations with the UK in the future that are increasingly advantageous.”

A former waiter and law student, Di Maio’s smart appearance is a far cry from that of M5S’ former leader, now Guarantor, comedian Beppe Grillo who revelled in his scruffy get up.

A political prodigy, Di Maio has been Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies for the past six years, who despite being a relatively unknown entity is being tipped to lead his party to even more power. 

The 5-Star Movement is the single most popular party as it is seen with 28  percent of the vote, according to the latest opinion poll by Tecne’.

Former PM Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party trails behind at 22, while former PM Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party comes third place at 18 percent.

The outcome of Italy’s March elections remains in the balance, with many predicting a hung parliament as no party is expected to reach the binding 51 percent majority.

Di Maio’s visit comes as Prime Minister Theresa May was threatened with a vetoed Brexit deal after she stunned audiences, announcing that EU migrants’ rights will not be protected during a transition period.

Speaking on Thursday during a three-day trip to China, May said she wanted to make it “clear” that EU citizens arriving after the UK effectively drops out of the EU – set for March 2019 – will be treated differently from those who are already settled.

According to reporter and columnist for the Independent Shehab Khan, diplomats in Brussels responding saying any prospect of a Brexit deal could be slashed if the EU’s request to uphold citizens’ fundamental rights is not satisfied.

Despite embracing the idea of a post-Brexit Britain, it looks like an Italy under the governance of Di Maio will not follow in the steps of the UK, as it had previously been suggested.

Although the party has repeatedly said it was keen on holding a referendum on the EU, the aspiring PM is in fact now claiming that a vote would be an “extrema ratio”- a last resort.

He did say, however, that Italy’s membership to the bloc is conditional to some EU rules being renegotiated.

Di Maio is adamant the EU’s precarious situation will force it to open to dialogue and negotiations, allowing Italy to “obtain what we need.”

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By Claire Gilbody-Dickerson, RT