The United Kingdom cannot rejoin the European single market without accepting the free movement of people, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
“In my view, it’s impossible to belong to [a] community only with the good things and not with the bad things,” Renzi said.
He was responding in part to British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who suggested in an opinion piece Tuesday that the UK – which on Thursday voted to leave the European Union – could “remain in the single market” but get rid of “the free movement of people as it currently operates.” Hunt is considering putting himself forward to be Britain’s next prime minister.
“It’s impossible,” Prime Minister Renzi said, “to speak only about [the] single market and not accept a politics about migration. It’s impossible to be very communitarian about the economy and not about values. This is the problem, in my view, about this campaign.”
Renzi spoke to Amanpour from Brussels, where the 28 European Union leaders – including British Prime Minister David Cameron – were to meet Tuesday to discuss the Brexit vote.
The Italian leader said he was shocked by the outcome of the referendum, but the EU “must respect the vote of [British] citizens.”
“We respect this vote and now is the moment to turn the page and to look at the future,” he told Amanpour.
The UK will remain a member of the European Union until the British government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, the procedure for leaving the EU. European Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday confirmed that “Europe is ready to start the divorce process, even today” – but Renzi said he and his counterparts understand it wouldn’t happen until Britain has a new prime minister in the fall.
“Obviously we respect the discussions inside the Conservative Party in the UK… and so I think this procedure we will open after the decision of [the Conservative Party conference] in September,” he said.
Renzi, who described Cameron as “a close friend,” noted that younger Britons overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU. According to an online survey by British pollster YouGov, 64% of people between the ages of 25 and 29 voted to remain in the bloc.
“I’m really touched personally by the reactions of young people in UK,” Renzi said. “I proposed yesterday to Angela Merkel and to Francois Hollande to give a possibility, an opportunity to young students in the UK. The people will visit or study in the European universities, in my view… I’m ready to create some initiatives for the people who come from UK.”
Populist parties are attracting attention, and votes, across the continent. In Italy, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement won mayoral elections in Rome and Turin last week. Its leader, Beppe Grillo, has called for a referendum on whether Italy should continue to use the euro as its currency.
“My opinion is that this moment is a moment of change, very strong change,” Renzi said. “The differences are not the differences between right and left, but [between] fear and the courage.”
He called on the EU to deliver “a very strong answer [to populism]… focused on the values of Europe. If we discuss only about the financial situation, and procedure, bureaucratic procedure,” he warned, “we’ll see an increasing by movement of populists. If, finally, we discuss about social Europe, about unemployment, about values, about the people who believe in the ideals, I think Europe come back to be our home and populists will be defeated.”
There are differing opinions within the EU about how it should respond to the so-called Brexit. A number of Eastern European diplomats have blamed the leadership style of Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, for rising skepticism about the EU in many member states.
“The risk of division [among EU members] is clear,” Renzi said. “I know. I see this risk.” He called for “a different approach” to Europe, but cautioned: “It’s not time of division. This is a time of a vision. A vision for the future of Europe.”