Belfast Telegraph

UK will 'work closely' with new administration in Italy after PM's resignation

Britain will "work closely" with the new administration in Italy which emerges after the resignation of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in the wake of his referendum defeat, Downing Street has said.

The 41-year-old Italian PM threw the EU into fresh turmoil by announcing his departure following the decisive 59%-41% rejection of his plans for constitutional reform.

His resignation sparked a slump in the euro, which fell sharply against the US dollar and hit a four-and-a-half-month low against sterling, reaching a 1.20 exchange rate for the first time since July.

Number 10 stressed that the outcome of the referendum on proposed constitutional changes was "a decision for the Italian people".

Theresa May's official spokeswoman said that the Prime Minister would seek to speak with Mr Renzi - who remains in office until his successor is appointed - over the coming days.

Rome was one of the stops on Mrs May's whirlwind tour of EU capitals in the days after she took office in July, when she was given a red-carpet welcome by Mr Renzi for talks over lunch.

Mrs May's spokeswoman told a regular Westminster media briefing: "The Prime Minister has had good relations with Matteo Renzi since she took office. She was appreciative of the way she was welcomed in Rome and t he work we have done together in previous years on an ambitious programme of reform.

"Now we look to the future and we will want to work closely with the Italian government."

The referendum result was being seen as a further victory for the anti-establishment backlash sweeping much of Europe and America - with the opposition to his plan headed by the anti-euro Beppe Grillo's populist Five Star Movement.

The comedian-turned politician rode the same wave of discontent which propelled Brexit to victory in the UK and Donald Trump to the White House in the United States.

Mr Renzi had staked all on his reform plan - vowing to resign if it was rejected by voters. But his gamble backfired as it turned the referendum into a vote on his record in office.

In an emotional televised address, he accepted full responsibility for the "extraordinarily clear" defeat and said he would tender his resignation after meeting his cabinet on Monday.

"The experience of my government ends here," he said.

Earlier there was a rare moment of relief for Europe's beleaguered political mainstream as the challenge of the far-right Freedom Party for the Austrian presidency ended in failure.

Norbert Hofer, who was seeking to become the first far-right president in Europe since the Second World War, was beaten by the Green Party's Alexander Van der Bellen.

Mr Van der Bellen said his win sent a "message to the capitals of the European Union that one can win elections with high European positions".

But Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front, who is hoping to ride the populist tide to victory in the French presidential elections, praised Mr Hofer's party for a campaign "fought with courage".

"Victory will be theirs in the next legislative elections," she said on Twitter.

Downing Street said that the election of a president in Vienna was "a decision for the Austrian people".

Speaking en-route to Bahrain for an official visit, Mrs May said: "This is a matter for the Italian people. They have made their choice. We will be continuing, obviously, along our path in relation to our future relationship with the European Union. This has been very much a matter for the Italian people."