Oliver Dowden is in Pontignano. Decode39 had a chance to chat with the United Kingdom’s Deputy Prime Minister during the Pontignano Conference near Siena. Organised by the British Embassy in Italy, the British Council and the University of Siena, it’s a traditional appointment – now at its 31st edition – for those working on the Italy-UK bilateral relationship.
- It’s a “very exciting time” for ties between the two countries, as Deputy PM Downden noted. Back in April, Italian PM Giorgia Meloni and her British counterpart Rishi Sunak signed a Memorandum of Understanding to enhance bilateral cooperation.
- The two conservative leaders entered office a few days apart, said Mr Dowden, and since then, they developed a “very strong relationship” and displayed a “genuine warmth of personal friendship.”
Focus on migration. That’s one of the matters the two PMs see eye to eye on. “I think there are areas of cooperation with Italy because what we do have in common is […] migrants crossing a body of water in very dangerous circumstances, facilitated by criminal gangs. So we can work together both to undermine those criminal gangs and to share intelligence,” remarked Deputy PM Dowden.
- Migration is “not just a challenge for the UK,” it’s a challenge “to varying degrees for virtually every G-7 country,” he added, recalling Italy’s commitment to put migration, Africa and the Global South at the heart of the G-7 presidency’s agenda in 2024 – which can “rely on the staunch support of the UK.”
- The soon-to-be-unveiled Mattei Plan for Africa will display the “non-predatory” approach to the region, as PM Meloni explained.
Focus on Ukraine. Deputy PM Dowden also took the opportunity to “pay tribute to both [PMs] Draghi and Meloni” for the “robustness they’ve shown in defence of European freedom in the face of Russian aggression […] in both words and deeds.” He then emphasised the British “outcome-based” approach to a possible solution to the conflict.
- Recently, Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said that attempts to that end could be pursued in 7-8 months; Mr Dowden argued he would be “very reluctant to set a timeline,” reiterating the UK will “stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainians to make sure that Russian aggression does not prevail. And I trust, believe and hope that the Italian government will do the same: we cannot reward aggression.”