Top EU diplomat ‘hopes’ for closer Scotland-Italy ties after meeting Nicola Sturgeon
A senior EU diplomat said he hoped a closer relationship would result “as soon as possible” from the ongoing EU-UK post-Brexit talks.
Raffaele Trombetta, Italy’s ambassador to the UK, made the comments after meeting Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh during a two-day visit to Scotland earlier this week.
His visit to Scotland was aimed at developing closer commercial, cultural and academic links between Scotland and Italy.
It was his first diplomatic mission since the easing of Covid restrictions with his 40-minute meeting with Ms Sturgeon at Bute House.
The Withdrawal Agreement signed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson took Britain out of the single market, ending the free movement of people, goods and services, while the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) concluded later set the framework for the new relationship.
But British businesses are among groups unhappy with the post-Brexit deal, saying it has imposed extra customs formalities and led to labor shortages in sectors such as hospitality and transport.
In an interview with The Herald, Mr Trombetta was asked if he would like to see a closer relationship under the ATT between Italy and the UK and see Brexit proceed in a smoother fashion.
“Yes, I would – but not only – I think it is possible. This is what we have been working on. I hope that the negotiations between the EU and the UK will have a positive result and I am sure that both parties, the EU Commission and the UK Government are working to [achieve] this goal,” he said.
Asked if Italy hopes a closer relationship will form, he replied: “Certainly. We hope that and we have a strong interest in seeing that happen. Firstly because [Italy] is a founding member of the European Union, but it is also in our national interest.”
Asked what the time frame was for that to happen and whether it would be five or ten years, he replied: “As soon as possible”.
Mr Trombetta revealed that bilateral discussions between Italy and the UK were underway to forge closer ties with ongoing work, including around greater academic collaboration in the two states. Heriot Watt University was among the places he visited in Scotland on his trip.
“We are working on a balanced relationship – within the framework of the EU/UK relationship of course – and we are also seeing bilaterally what we can do. And that is the main objective of my visit today”, did he declare.
“We have been talking with the UK government about a bilateral agreement or agreement and one of the different areas or pillars is called ‘people to people’, which included student exchange.
“Heriot Watt, for example, has a collaboration with four Italian universities. The bilateral agreement would also include Italian researchers and professors.”
He added: “It’s a framework agreement that we’re working on. It’s not finalized yet.”
Current negotiations between the EU and the UK focus on the Northern Ireland protocol, but further discussions continue to take place through specialist committees and a parliamentary assembly set up in the ATT framework.
Mr Trombetta said Brexit had led to a 17% drop in mutual trade between Italy and the UK, with many Italian small and medium-sized businesses being hit hard.
Last month, the UK Chambers of Commerce urged the UK government to fix post-Brexit red tape on customs and trade processes and issue more visas to address labor shortages.
The trade group, which represents tens of thousands of businesses across the UK, has raised concerns about the disruption caused by the UK’s departure from the EU single market.
In a wide-ranging report, the BCC called on the UK and EU to further streamline new customs and trade processes to reduce the paperwork burden and avoid delays.
This should include an agreement on safety markings for industrial products – where differences will exist with the EU – and a veterinary agreement to ease restrictions on trade in plant and animal products.
Mr Trombetta said customs checks had had a negative impact on Italian food exports – which could be triggered if there were delays due to customs delays.
He said the meeting with Ms Sturgeon on Monday morning had “gone well”, adding that questions of a second independence referendum and the prospect of Scotland joining the EU as a independent country had not been addressed in their discussions.
“We had a friendly and relaxed conversation, mainly about relations between Italy and Scotland. I was grateful to the Prime Minister for the way Italian citizens have been taken care of, especially over the last few years after Brexit and then the pandemic,” he said. .
“The Prime Minister has recognized the role played by the Italian community in Scotland.”