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Italian Minister Warns EU ‘Hardliners’ Could Spark Brexit ‘Economic Cold War’

Italy’s Deputy Foreign Minister has warned “hardliners” in the European Union (EU) could seek to punish Britain and exploit Brexit, sparking a “battle of interests” and even an “economic cold war”.

Mario Giro said Italy was not interested in harming the UK economy or stripping business from Britain, but claimed there were more hardliners in the EU who would work against the UK after the Brexit vote than it appeared.

“When we are among the 27 [countries within the EU, not including the UK], the hardliners are more numerous than it appears. I cannot quote a country in particular at the moment. We will see it at the beginning of the negotiation,” Mr. Giro said in an interview with The Guardian.

The politician, who was appointed under Matteo Renzi’s centre-left government, added: “We are hearing more and more that there are people – economic interests – who are thinking they can inherit some economic position, thinking that they can take away from the UK some of the position of the City of London.

“Not Italy, of course, because we are not in that position. And this will be an economic war. Let’s say an economic cold war, and we are not in favour of it.”

French President François Hollande, for example, had declared Britain must pay a price for Brexit: “There must be a threat, there must be a risk, there must be a price,” he said in October.

In response to such attitudes, Prime Minister Thersa May has threatened economic retaliation if the EU plays hardball, by slashing business rates and turning Britain into an offshore “tax haven”.

For Mr. Giro, Brexit is just one example of the old liberal, globalist, order being challenged. “The old tools – principles and multilateralism – do not function any more,” he said. “Everything is broken and everyone is trying to save himself.”

In his view, the most pressing concerns for Europe include Libya and Turkey, where he said any increase in instability threatened to “drag us into it, into the confusion of the Middle East”.

“We need Turkey to defend itself from this contagion [spreading from Syria]. We have to help Ankara, showing strong solidarity,” he said.

He was less hysterical about the election of Donald J. Trump, insisting Italy would work with the president despite their differing views on the EU.

“Italy has always had good relations with America and will no matter what president the US has,” he said.

“We will work with the new administration as we did with previous ones. He knows that Italy is very much in favour of strengthening the European Union, and not to dissolve it. That is something that everyone knows.”

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