Italy would like to see Britain reverse its decision to leave the European Union despite the fact that the process has already began, according to the country’s ambassador to the U.K.
“We would be delighted if a shift in public opinion would lead the government in the future to stop the process and backtrack towards retaining full membership of the Union,” Pasquale Terracciano, the Italian ambassador to the U.K., told CNBC in an exclusive interview on Monday.
Brexit negotiations are heading towards their second round with proposals on citizens’ rights already on the table. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May sent a letter to officials of the other 27 member countries informing them of the U.K.’s intention to leave the bloc last March. However, all of these steps could be reversed if the U.K. wanted, the Italian ambassador said.
“I think honestly that going back would be possible,” he said. “If not, it would be possible to find a close relationship or create, developing what has already been done for Norway and Switzerland, and develop the concept of associated partnership,” Terraciano suggested.
The Norway model includes access to the single market – a tariff free trading bloc for the EU – but as a result it also contributes to the EU’s budget and accepts the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Switzerland has a free trade agreement with the EU and access to the single market, but not for its banking services. It pays into several EU projects and it also has to respect free movement of people. Both of these models have redlines for the U.K. government.
The EU has associated agreements with third countries, including Albania, Kosovo, Chile and Turkey. Such agreements involve commitments at the political and economic level, but it can take the shape of a trade deal for example.
When asked if the current divisions within the U.K. government could impact the negotiations, Terracciano insisted that the door would continue to be open if the U.K. did want to remain a member of the EU.
“We can’t do much regarding the internal political situation in Britain,” Terracciano told CNBC. “We’d like to know what is the final aim, the final objective that the U.K. has in mind, because this isn’t clear at the moment. Also once again in any case should the country decide to go into reverse gear we’d certainly be very helpful,” he added.
In the eventuality that Brexit does take place, Italy wants “to find a constructive solution which keeps the U.K. as closely associated to the union as possible.”
“No punitive attitude in our position,” he added.
Terracciano also said that it’s important to keep the EU united, including for the benefit of the U.K., because EU unanimity is required to approve the final Brexit deal.