Sunak and Meloni hail 'strong relations' as they agree to co-operate on illegal migration

Far-right Italian Prime Minister in Downing Street as part of two-day state visit to Britain

Rishi Sunak greets Giorgia Meloni outside No 10 Downing Street. AFP
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Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni vowed to work together on tackling illegal migration at a meeting at No 10 Downing Street on Thursday.

The pair exchanged warm words before their private talks, which touched on issues including defence, immigration policy and bilateral trade.

Mr Sunak described the UK and Italy’s values as “very aligned”, while Ms Meloni praised him as a “very strong” and empathetic leader.

Stemming the flow of migrants is a key issue for both governments, with Mr Sunak having made “stopping the boats” crossing the English Channel one of his priorities.

Ms Meloni, who leads the far-right Brothers of Italy party, is in Britain for a two-day state visit and was the subject of a small protest at Downing Street over her hardline stance on migration.

A group of demonstrators gathered outside the gates of Downing Street as the leaders met, holding signs that read “No to fascist Meloni” and chanting: “Refugees in, Meloni out.”

The pair will sign an agreement, which Mr Sunak said would strengthen co-operation on reducing irregular migration, defence and the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

They will later head to Westminster Abbey for a private tour.

The British Prime Minister paid tribute to Ms Meloni’s “very careful handling of the Italian economy”.

He told her: “I think the values between our two countries are very aligned, which is why we can work so well together on shared challenges, whether it’s responding to Putin’s illegal invasion in Ukraine, where again I pay tribute to your leadership, but also tackling illegal migration, which is something that is common to both of us.”

“We have nations that, as you said, well they have a strong partnership since decades, but I think there is much more that we can do on many topics on which we are on the same side – defence, Ukraine,” she said.

“Tackling traffickers and illegal migration is something that your government is doing very well.

“I’m following your work and I absolutely agree with your work and I think there are many things that we can do together.”

She also hailed a “new beginning” for bilateral co-operation.

The meeting comes a day after the UK government’s asylum bill cleared its final stages in the House of Commons, though it will face a stiff test in the Lords when it undergoes further scrutiny.

The Illegal Migration Bill would change the law so people who arrive in the UK illegally would be detained then promptly removed, either to their home country or a safe third country such as Rwanda.

In Italy, Ms Meloni has led a crackdown on people smugglers and on rescue ships run by charities, which she says are encouraging a growing number of migrants to risk dangerous voyages from North Africa across the Mediterranean.

On the agenda, too, is the agreement between the UK, Italy and Japan to develop next-generation fighter jets.

Under the defence partnership, announced in December, it is hoped the planes, called Tempest in the UK, will be flying by 2035 and serve as a successor to the RAF Typhoon.

Updated: April 27, 2023, 5:23 PM