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EU trying to swindle UK over Brexit, says Italy's deputy PM

Mrs May
Mrs May
Matteo Salvini

By David Wilcock

Theresa May should take a hard line with the EU over Brexit negotiations or risk being cheated, Italy's deputy prime minister has said.

Right-wing populist Matteo Salvini said Mrs May should be prepared to walk away without a deal.

He said: "On some principles there is no need to be flexible and you should not go backwards."

Mr Salvini, a former MEP who has clashed with the EU since entering government earlier this year, spoke as the Prime Minister faced pressure from Conservative Party figures not to cede any more ground to Brussels.

Her white paper sparked the resignation of foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis, and while party figures have supported it, some have warned it should be a line in the sand rather than a flexible starting point for negotiations.

Mr Salvini, leader of anti-immigrant party the League, said there is "no objectivity or good faith from the European side", adding: "My experience in the European parliament tells me you either impose yourself or they swindle you."

His comments come after Mrs May and senior ministers embarked on a series of visits to EU27 countries in an attempt to get backing for her Brexit plan.

It was dealt a blow by Brussels last Thursday as EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier rejected the customs proposals that form a key plank of her white paper.

She had received a welcome boost on Friday after Austria agreed Brexit would be among topics for discussion at an informal meeting of EU leaders.

Downing Street said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz agreed that Britain's departure from the EU would be on the agenda for the European Council being hosted by his country - which currently holds the EU presidency - on September 20.

It means the Prime Minister has an extra gathering of leaders that she can try to convince to support her Brexit plan after a week in which ministers have been deployed to various capitals to woo senior politicians.

The next meeting is a gathering of EU leaders in Brussels in October, by which time it is hoped a Brexit deal will have been hammered out. Mrs May has been backed by her local Conservative Association chairman. Richard Kellaway said the Maidenhead branch "fully supported" her plan and he had been impressed by a briefing on it for association heads in Downing Street by her chief of staff Gavin Barwell.

Mr Kellawaysaid: "Most of us found it quite persuasive and convincing. We have received little criticism from our members.

"I'm of the group of people who feel that it is not a great deal, but it is not bad."

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