The (political) road to London. On Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni travelled to the United Kingdom and met with her counterpart Rishi Sunak. Beyond signing an all-encompassing, relationship-redefining Memorandum of Understanding, the two leaders spoke warmly of each other and expressed mutual admiration for their policies.
- The British PM treated Ms Meloni to a visit to Westminster Abbey (which is currently closed ahead of next week’s coronation of King Charles III) and showed her letters from Margaret Thatcher.
- All in all, the British government devoted over three hours to the Italian delegation – a record, said London – to highlight the attention and friendship between the two executives.
Worlds apart… The two leaders’ cosiness is rooted in their respective political families, which are only apparently distant. Mr Sunak represents the British Conservatives, one of Europe’s oldest and most consolidated parties whose identity is inextricably linked with that of modern democracy. Ms Meloni, on the other hand, is the first Italian head of government hailing from a post-fascist tradition.
… or closer than you might think? Nevertheless, over the past years, the Italian PM worked to make her relatively young party, Brothers of Italy, into a more traditional conservative force. On the campaign trail, she had stressed her leadership of the European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) group, which “shares values and experiences with the British Tories, the US Republicans and the Israeli Likud.”
- Then, when she got elected in 2022, she cited Sir Roger Scruton – a famed British conservative philosopher, bastion of the European intellectual, Christian and traditionalist right wing – in her inauguration speech.
- And since she got the top job, her government style has been centred on moderation (in fiscal policy and beyond) and pragmatism, maintaining a veneer that has generally been attuned to mainstream conservative political parties.
That’s a badge of honour. Parts of the British conservative establishment have definitely acknowledged that PM Meloni belongs to their area. On Friday, she received the Grotius Prize from the Policy Exchange, a leading British think tank close to the conservatives (last year’s winner was Estonian PM Kaja Kallas).
- Stephen Booth, formerly head of Policy Exchange’s Britain in the World Project and now a researcher at the Council on Geostrategy, described PM Meloni as someone who’s shedding “ the archetypal image of the European radical right party, epitomised by Marine Le Pen and [Matteo] Salvini.”
- “For example, any fears that [Ms] Meloni might seek to undermine the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would seem misplaced. Whereas [Mr] Salvini has historically had close links to the Kremlin and has criticised EU sanctions on Russia, [Ms] Meloni strongly backed [former Italian PM Mario] Draghi’s support for Ukraine while in opposition and has made a point of underlining her pro-NATO stance.