Expert View

May’s only EU friend is a far-right Italian xenophobe

by Denis MacShane | 30.07.2018

Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years.

As the prime minister enjoys her walking holiday in the hills and lakes of Northern Italy she has to face a grim truth. No fellow head of government backs her Brexit plan as set out at Chequers and then in her White Paper.

The latest to say “Nein” was the young, very right-wing Austrian Chancellor, who is in alliance with a party with Nazi heritage. Sebastian Kurz softened the blow by inviting Theresa May to the Salzburg Festival to see Mozart’s Magic Flute, the great musical celebration of the 18th Century European Enlightenment values of reason.

Her only supporter is the far-right xenophobe Italian interior minister, who has accused the EU of “swindling” the UK out of the Brexit people voted for. Matteo Salvini’s main focus is a racist campaign against refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants arriving in Italy from North Africa after the destruction of the state of Libya initiated by David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011.

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Some British commentators have tried to draw parallels between Brexiters’ desire to end free movement and the hostility to immigrants espoused by Salvini and Kurz as well as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Jarsosław Kaczynski. But their beef is mainly about Muslims coming from outside Europe after Angela Merkel announced Germany would take in a million refugees in 2015.

Poland enjoys Brussels bashing but will not support any moves against the 800,000 Polish workers who live in Britain. Poland, Hungary and other populist governments in east Europe also want to keep receiving EU financial support – and depend on the single market and customs union to attract foreign investment and ensure free flow of exports across borders.

Right-wing British pundits jump on any marginal statement from anywhere in Europe as implying the prime minister could drive a wedge between Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, and the leaders of the other 27 countries. But as May discovered in Austria, a bit of Brussels-bashing does not mean they will break ranks – a view the Greek Foreign Ministry repeated when I was in Athens last week.

Britain is more isolated than ever thanks to Brexit – and we are either heading for a miserable deal even worse than the one the prime minister set out in her White Paper or crashing out with no deal at all. A people’s vote at the end of the Brexit talks could cut that Gordian knot and allow the British people to decide if a change of course in the light of so much new evidence since the referendum makes sense.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “May’s only EU friend is a far-right Italian xenophobe”

  • He is her friend because they are like-minded people, and he likes what she says. Says an awful lot about where Britain is, doesn’t it?

  • I am Italian and I couldn’t agree more. he is simply a BASTARD and his main occupation is taking selfies with people who have in common the same diluted brain cells!!!