Prime Minister’s press conference with Prime Minister Gentiloni
It is a great pleasure to be able to welcome Prime Minister Gentiloni to Downing Street. Just as I chose to visit Italy shortly after coming into office, Prime Minister Gentiloni has made the UK one of his first trips – and I think that underlines the importance that we both place on the long-standing relationship between our 2 countries.
As I have said before, Britain is leaving the European Union – but we are not leaving Europe – and a global Britain that stands tall in the world, will be a Britain that remains a good friend and ally to Italy and to all our European partners.
So we have had important discussions today on the future of our bilateral relationship as the UK leaves the EU; and on a number of areas at the heart of Italy’s Presidency of the G7. And we have agreed to establish a regular bilateral summit between the UK and Italy.
First, the UK remains committed to triggering Article 50 by the end of March and last night we moved a step closer with the successful passage of the Bill in the Commons. As I have said, the priority for the UK in the negotiations ahead will be to seek a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union today we talked about the importance we both place on our trade.
The UK is Italy’s seventh largest export market for goods, worth over 22 billion euros a year, and we do vital business in agriculture, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and defence. For example, already this year the UK government has signed a £271 million deal with Leonardo Helicopters to provide maintenance for our Wildcat helicopters, protecting hundreds of skilled jobs in Yeovil.
And together with other free trade deals we intend to do, I am determined that a global Britain will be a great champion of free trade in a way that can only be good for British and Italian businesses and jobs.
A global Britain will also be a leading partner in addressing the wider challenges that Prime Minister Gentiloni and his government have put at the heart of Italy’s G7 presidency this year; including making the global economy work for everyone, finding better solutions to managing the huge population movements we are seeing, and keeping up the pressure on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine.
Italy has been engaged in a long debate about how the benefits of prosperity can be shared by more people. And we are having a similar debate in Britain, where we have embarked on an ambitious programme of economic and social reform to spread wealth and opportunity more fairly across our country. And I hope that this year’s G7 can help us go further in working with all our international partners to shape a global economy that truly works for everyone.
That same co-operation is vital for our security too. And just as we do in Afghanistan and at the forefront of the international coalition against Daesh, Britain and Italy will continue to work together for the security of all our citizens. And global Britain will continue to play a leading role in Europe’s security through the NATO alliance.
We will also continue to work together in tackling the migration crisis in the Mediterranean. Italy has become the main arrival point for illegal migration into Europe, with over 180,000 people arriving in 2016. But this is not just a problem for Italy, it is a problem for us all. And we need to work together to find better solutions to the huge population movements we are seeing, so refugees don’t have to risk their lives on dangerous journeys and so we control the unmanageable economic migration that is neither working for migrants nor for our own populations.
We both strongly support the comprehensive and co-ordinated approach agreed at the EU Summit in Malta last week. This includes seeking an inclusive political settlement to stabilise Libya which will not only help to tackle migration flows but also counter terrorism. And I welcome the agreement that was signed between the Italian and Libyan governments last week on migration and on strengthening border security.
Britain and Italy will continue to work together closely and I hope that through Italy’s G7 presidency we can shape a new approach to managing mass population movements that is in the interests of all those involved. We must also do everything possible to protect men, women and children from trafficking, sexual violence and labour exploitation. And I am grateful that Italy has put modern slavery on the G7 agenda for the first time and hope that we can enhance the joint working between our law enforcement agencies to cultivate a new radical, global and co-ordinated approach to defeat this vile crime that runs counter to our deepest values.
Finally, on the situation in eastern Ukraine, I emphasised the UK’s continuing concern over Russia’s aggressive and destabilising actions and the drastic deterioration in the humanitarian situation that we have seen recently. And it is vital that the international community continues to exert pressure and that we continue to maintain sanctions on Russia until the Minsk agreements are fully implemented.
I want to thank you Prime Minister for your visit and for the constructive conversations we have had.
I believe that today we have laid the foundations for continuing the strong and successful relationship between our 2 countries – and I look forward to working with you, Prime Minister, on your G7 agenda and on the UN Security Council this year, and on shaping a new partnership between Britain and the EU that is in the interests of us all.
Prime Minister Gentiloni
Many thanks. I would like to thank Prime Minister May for her kind words and the welcome I had here today. I think our conversations have reiterated the friendship and the closeness that our 2 countries historically have, and it is important to reconfirm this at this point in time. I really appreciate the decision that we have taken in terms of bilateral meetings between our 2 governments in the near future. This will help us strengthen a very old relationship that always needs nourishment.
We have obviously taken into account what is necessary after the decision of the UK citizens of leaving the EU, a decision that we respect fully, and we are aware of the fact that negotiations will not be easy. And we also know that we need to show a constructive and friendly approach. There is absolutely no point at having a destructive negotiation between the EU and the UK. So, obviously, we will do this in the hope of fostering the unity of the 27 countries, because, without the unity of the 27 countries it will be difficult to come to some agreement. We must ensure this unity will result in the best possible agreement with the UK.
We also have a very specific interest in reassuring our citizens, I’m thinking about the Italians that live in the UK and the British citizens that live in Italy, about the fact that their acquired rights will be respected and there will be reciprocity, so there will be very fair treatment.
And from our point of view, it is fundamental to hear the message Mrs May has just given us, and that is that the UK decided to leave the EU but this does not mean that the country will leave Europe. As far as Italy is concerned, we can say that we are committed, even though this decision did not fill us with joy, but this is what the UK citizens have decided. We intend re-launching the EU and this will happen at the end of March in Rome for the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty, with the aim of celebrating the results so far. But also, to look at the mission of the EU in the next 10 years in detail and take in to account the fact that it may be necessary to have different levels of integration which is apparent.
And as Mrs May said, we will continue to foster good co-operation between our 2 countries in the days ahead, and I’m not only thinking of the UK and EU negotiation but also for the period that we are living in Italy, finally, we see a little bit of growth. Unfortunately, not as strong as we would like it to be. But I want to reiterate here that we continue with the reforms and the application of these reforms, so the Italian government shows continuity with what has been done in the last 2 or 3 years.
And we wish to ensure stability for what needs to be done. We have achieved important results and I would like to note that today we had an unprecedented result of the fight against tax evasion, something quite unprecedented, €19 billion, that has been recovered. And also, we have passed a decree on our banks.
So this means a stability at a time of reforms that continue, and a common commitment between Italy and the UK in terms of the most important issues in Europe, in the Mediterranean and globally that touch both countries, and we will do this also during the G7 presidency as Mrs May has just said. This will be an opportunity to reconfirm our common values, values for our democracies and our civilisation and also a commitment towards NATO and an even greater effort that we need to face in order to face all the changes that globalisation and technological innovation has brought about, and we need to reduce injustice.
And finally, a co-operation between Italy and the UK in terms of the different issues that we see around us, in particular, we spoke of Libya, because stabilising this country is absolutely fundamental not just for Italy but for the whole of Europe and this is due to the migration flows but also the risk that whilst we have good success against terrorism, the fact that there could be terrorist cells that get organised in our countries. And I very much appreciate the support that I have received from London and the EU on this agreement that is obviously an initial agreement on which we will need to build over time between the Italian government and the Libyan government, but obviously, the support we receive from London and the EU is extremely important.
We also discussed Syria, Somalia, the fight against terrorism and the different fronts on which we are engaged, because this is part of the values that unite us, and this is absolutely fundamental. And if possible, we shall strengthen this well beyond the negotiation that we are about to start in a constructive manner between London and the EU.
Thank you, Prime Minister. Prime Minister, the worst A&E figures in more than 10 years. The British Medical Association says you have your head in the sand and don’t recognise the seriousness of the situation. What can you say to British voters to reassure them that the NHS really is safe in your hands? Also, we know that one of the big pressures on the NHS is adult social care. Did you change the formula for funding that after lobbying from Surrey County Council, and does that mean that other councils will miss out? And finally, for Prime Minister Gentiloni, Britain has just closed a refugee scheme to help unaccompanied children coming to the UK. As a country that is bearing a heavy burden in accommodating refugees and immigrants, do you think Britain is doing enough to look after refugees coming from the Middle East and immigrants?
On the question of the National Health Service, first of all I’d like to thank the staff who are working day in and day out in the National Health Service, giving such good quality treatment to people and, in many cases, record numbers of people. We’ve put record funding into the National Health Service. I recognise that it is under pressure. That’s why we’re putting £10 billion extra into the National Health Service. But if you look at what has been happening in A&E – in December we had a record number, the busiest day in Accident and Emergency that has taken place in the National Health Service. We are now seeing something like nearly 3,000 more people being seen within the 4-hour standard every single day in the National Health Service.
Now, as I say, the staff working in the National Health Service are doing an excellent job, day in and day out. We’re putting funding in and we’re seeing higher numbers of doctors, higher numbers of nurses, higher numbers of paramedics in our hospitals and they are providing excellent care. On social care funding, we have given the opportunity for all councils to have a 3% precept on their council tax. Next year, with other extra funding that we’re putting in, that means an opportunity for £900 million – up to £900 million extra going to social care.
But as I have said before, we recognise the short-term pressures on social care. We’ve looked at that in relation to funding, but there are other things we need to do in social care. We need, in the medium term, to ensure that best practice is being spread across the country and we also need a long-term sustainable solution. This has been ducked by governments here in the UK for too long. This government is now looking at that.
And if I may, just on the refugees, of course we have a number of schemes in which we are bringing refugees into the United Kingdom. We have our Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme, that commits to 20,000 people coming over the course of this Parliament. We have a scheme for vulnerable children and families from the Middle East and North African region more generally, and alongside the work that’s being done specifically about Syrian refugee children in mainland Europe. We’ve also been bringing children from mainland Europe into the United Kingdom, where they have a right to be reunited with their families.
So, we have been seeing quite a number of children and families being resettled here in the United Kingdom. And I think what we’re doing in terms of refugees is absolutely right. On top, of course, of the significant financial support and humanitarian aid we’re giving to refugees in the region of Syria – a commitment of £2.3 billion, the second biggest bilateral donor.
Prime Minister Gentiloni
Yes, of course Europe needs a common strategy for migrants. And obviously, the weight of the response we gave to this influx of migrants needs to be shared between the EU countries – and the Italian commitment does not involve discussing unilateral decision by one country or another, but we need to push for a common sharing of responsibilities. If we look at the starting point of what happened in Europe when we started seeing this influx of migrants, we have really made incredible strides forward.
And if we look back at the beginning of 2015, which is not that long ago, it would have been very difficult to arrive to a migration strategy at the EU level. And I think that at the union level, the first agenda item on this dates back to April 2015. Since then, we have made very good steps forward, and what was discussed in Malta a few days ago is a step forward. And I think that, obviously, this is not yet enough, so we shall continue to ensure that there is understanding, cohesion, responsibility for all, and we shall try and continue doing what we need to do. And tomorrow, our council of ministers will discuss new measures, new regulation for migrants.
Mrs May, you said that Italian workers and other EU citizens will have full rights in the country. You said also that in August when you came to Rome and in the text of your bill, but it is not actually specifically confirmed. You talk about reciprocity, but I’m wondering whether you could do a first step forward since it is the UK that decided to leave the EU and not vice versa. And to Mr Gentiloni, I would like to ask, in the economics you spoke of co-operation, and I’m wondering whether you may be concerned that the complex international situation and the protectionism that we see in the US linked to Brexit would, could have a bad effect on the economy of Italy and the rest of the EU?
Prime Minister Gentiloni
Well, I think that as far as the EU is concerned, we need to take into account the difficulties and the unknowns of the international economic scene, but we also need to be able to face up to the opportunity that we see. It is a bit early today to try and assess what the future will bring in terms of international markets, and whether there might be some rather protectionist measures or not.
But we need to look also at what our potential is. The EU is not a tiny little something. It’s a huge commercial and trading bloc. And we certainly have the possibility and the opportunity of having an ever-greater role on the international scene. So, a good relationship in terms of trade with one of the most important countries, that is, the UK, that decided to reshape this relationship, is important, and also to be able to act in different regions of the world like Latin America with the Mercosur.
We believe in an open society, in a free market, and we will continue to strive for that. And obviously, we intend to co-operate in the best possible way with the USA because they have always been our ally. And we understand that a country like Italy, that is very expert orientated and and favour free trade, something that we have done over the centuries, we understand the role that we can have on the international scene. We will not accept closed markets and we will always strive to have openness, and we assure that this work will continue with the UK and with the rest of the international scene.
And on the question of EU citizens, who were living here in the United Kingdom, I have consistently said that I want to be able to, and expect to be able to guarantee their status here in the UK. But as a UK Prime Minister, I must, of course, also think of the UK citizens who are living in what would be the 27 remaining states of the EU, and I would want their status in those member states to be guaranteed too. I think there’s goodwill on all sides in relation to this matter. We recognise people want reassurance for their future, and as I said in the House of Commons yesterday when I trigger Article 50, I will make clear that I want this issue to be addressed at an early stage of the negotiations precisely so we can give reassurance both to UK citizens living in Italy and other member states and EU citizens, Italians and others, living here in the UK.
Prime Minister, you’ve previously said that the question of Scottish independence was settled in 2014 by the referendum. My question to you today is, would you allow you a second independence referendum and do you expect such a request to land on your desk after you trigger Article 50?
First of all, I think the question is not whether there could be a second referendum, but whether there should be a second referendum. As you said in your question, we had the independence referendum in 2014. The Scottish people determined at that time that they wanted Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom. The SNP at the time said it was a once in a generation vote.
I think what we should all now be doing is working together to ensure that when UK negotiates with the European Union, we get the best possible deal in that negotiation for trading with and operating within the single European market. A deal that will be good for the whole of the United Kingdom, and good for the European Union, and we have committed to intensifying our discussions with the Scottish government and looking at the plan that they have brought forward. And we will work with the other devolved administrations to ensure that when we start those negotiations, we are very clear about the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.
Angela Merkel has said that during the Rome celebration, the time has come to launch a 2-speed Europe, and do you think that Italy will be part of the top tier? As far as the economic situation is concerned, some political parties consider that a government that has a limited lifespan would have greater difficulties in dealing with the EU in negotiating the reduction of the national debt. I’d like to know what you think about this. And to Mrs May, today we have seen an Italian newspaper writing about the need for better policies on migration, and since you were the first one to meet with Donald Trump, I would like to know whether what is being done by Mr Trump is suitable in terms of migration and do you consider it would be correct to invite Mr Putin to the G7 in Taormina or not?
Prime Minister Gentiloni
The Italian Presidency has not issued an invitation to Mr Putin to come to the G7 meeting in Taormina. Obviously, there is a need for all of us, and Italy agrees, to maintain a firm position when it comes to principles. We also should try and foster dialogue and Italy is able to do this, because it holds the chair of the G7. But this has nothing to do with the possibility of an invitation that at the moment is non-existent.
As far as the 2 questions that were asked of me – the EU already has different levels of integration. We have the euro countries and the multi-currency countries. There are some countries that have signed the Schengen agreement and others who didn’t. So, I think it would be reasonable, and I certainly argued this as Foreign Minister, that within the EU, it is absolutely feasible to have different levels of integration, and this is one of the positive answers that we can give to the difficulties of the EU, and that could be the result of the meetings in Rome where we will be looking at the next 10 years of progress.
And as far as the economic situation is concerned, I think we need to look at reality and at our constitution. Reality tells us that this government is in power. It has the support of the full Parliament, and therefore, we are serious and stable first of all for our citizens, but also when we discuss the budget with the EU. And as far as our constitution is concerned, we know that the government has its full powers, because it has the confidence of its Parliament.
I think Prime Minister Gentiloni has answered the question you asked about President Putin and the G7. In relation to the Executive order that President Trump signed now nearly 2 weeks ago, with the various movement bans – we thought that was wrong. That it was divisive. It is not a policy that the United Kingdom would adopt. What we did do when it became clear that there was concern among British citizens that it might affect them, we worked with the United States government, with his administration, to ensure that it was not going to affect British nationals and British geo-nationals.
But there is a wider issue, as we’ve both discussed, about migration and how we deal with the significant migratory flows that we’ve been seeing coming, particularly as we’ve both referenced, from Libya across the Mediterranean into Italy and into other parts of Europe. And the key point, and I think this is where the work that the Italian government is now doing with the Libyan government, which we and others around the EU Council table support, is important – is ensuring that people don’t make that journey across the Mediterranean in the first place. We want to ensure that people can be returned at an earlier stage to their country of origin, and that we don’t see people trying to make a journey, which sadly as we know over recent months and years, has resulted in many thousands of people losing their lives. So, we are working together on that, and we continue to support Italian efforts both in the Mediterranean, but also in dealing with these more upstream issues and in dealing with the organised crime groups. And we should never forget that a lot of this migratory traffic is actually providing profits to organised crime groups, to criminals, and we must ensure that we stop their activity. Thank you very much.