Top European diplomat ‘hopeful’ of closer Scots-Italy ties after meeting Nicola Sturgeon

A TOP European diplomat has said he is hopeful a closer relationship will result “as soon a possible” from ongoing post Brexit talks between the EU and the UK.

Raffaele Trombetta, the Italian Ambassador to the UK, made his comments after meeting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh during a two day visit to Scotland earlier this week.

His visit to Scotland was to develop closer business, cultural and academic ties between Scotland and Italy.

It was his first diplomatic mission since Covid restrictions eased with his 40-minute meeting with Ms Sturgeon taking place in 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) struck later set out the framework for the new relationship.

But businesses in the UK are among the groups who have been unhappy with the post Brexit arrangement saying it has imposed extra customs’ red tape and led to a shortage of labour in sectors such as hospitality and haulage.

In an interview with The Herald Mr Trombetta was asked if he would like to see a closer relationship within the remit of the TCA between Italy and UK and see Brexit pursued in a softer way.

“Yes I would to – but not only – I think it is possible. That’s what we have been working on. I do hope that the negotiations between the EU and the UK will have a positive outcome and I am sure both sides, the EU Commission and the UK Government are working to [achieve] that objective,” he said.

Asked if Italy was hopeful of a closer relationship forming, he said: “Definitely. We do hope that and we have a strong interest in it happening. First of all because [Italy] is a founding member of the European Union but it’s also in our national interests.”

He was asked about the timescale for this happening and whether it would be five or ten years, he said: “As soon as it is possible”.

Mr Trombetta revealed bilateral discussions between Italy and the UK were taking place to build closer ties with work underway in particular around greater university collaboration in the two states. Heriot Watt University was among the places he visited in Scotland during his trip.

“We are working on a balanced relationship – within the framework of course of the EU/UK relationship – and also we are seeing bilaterally what we can do. And this is the main purpose of my visit today,” he said.

“We have been talking to the UK Government about bilateral agreement or an understanding and one of the different areas or pillars is being called ‘people to people’ which included exchange of students.

“Heriot Watt, for example have a collaboration with four Italian universities. The bilateral understanding would also include Italian researchers, professors.”

He added: “It is a framework agreement we have been working on. It is not finalised yet.”

Current EU and UK negotiations centre on the Northern Ireland protocol but other discussions continue to take place through specialised committees and a parliamentary assembly set up under the TCA.

Mr Trombetta said Brexit had seen a decline of 17% in mutual trade between Italy and the UK with many Italian medium and small enterprises badly hit.

Last month the British Chambers of Commerce urged the UK Government to fix post-Brexit red tape over customs and trade processes and issue more visas to address labour shortages.

The trade group, which represents tens of thousands of businesses across the UK, has raised concerns over disruption caused by the UK’s departure from the EU’s single market.

In a wide-ranging report the BCC called for the UK and the EU to further streamline new customs and trade processes to reduce the burden of paperwork and prevent delays.

This should include agreement over safety markings of industrial goods — where differences will exist with the EU — and a veterinary deal to ease restrictions on the trade of plant and animal products.

Mr Trombetta said customs checks had had a negative impact on Italian food exports – which could go off if held up due to customs delays.

He said the meeting with Ms Sturgeon on Monday morning went “well” adding that the issues of a second independence referendum and the prospect of Scotland entering the EU as an independent country did not come up in their discussions.

“We had a friendly and relaxed conversation, mainly about Italy and Scotland’s relationship. I was grateful to the First Minister for the way the Italian citizens have been looked after, especially in the last few years post Brexit and then the pandemic,” he said.

“The First Minister acknowledged the role the Italian community has been playing in Scotland.”


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