The young anti-establishment leader who could become Italy’s next Prime Minister has called for the European Union (EU) to go easy on Britain as it negotiates its way out of the bloc.
Luigi di Maio, 26, who is a senior member of the Five Star Movement, called on EU leaders to allow Britain to control its borders while retaining full access to European markets.
“Brexit is a decision of the British people and we have no wish to punish them,” he said.
The Times reports that he also defended Britain’s immigration policy, saying: “We must have the right as a state to limit the migrant flows… otherwise you are not a sovereign state.”
Mr di Maio is widely tipped to be named Prime Minister if his party wins the next election. The Five Star Movement is now polling only a few points behind the governing Democratic Party of incumbent Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Mr Renzi has staked his political future on a constitutional reform referendum in December, a vote he looks increasingly likely to lose.
In comments that will put him at odds with other leaders, Mr di Maio said that rather than punish the UK for leaving, EU countries “should be able to continue to have flourishing economic relations with the UK”.
“I see rancour in the EU and willingness to punish the British to discourage others from leaving,” he added. “We mustn’t wage war on the UK.”
If Five Star Movement is elected, it will mark a startling rise to power for the anti-establishment party, which was founded just seven years ago by comedian Beppe Grillo.
The party has taken an increasingly tough line on immigration, and has even promised a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro currency if it is elected.
Virginia Raggi, the party’s candidate for Mayor of Rome, was elected on a landslide in June, becoming the city’s first woman leader.