LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak declared that Britain and Italy are “very aligned” in values as he welcomed far-right Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni on Thursday for talks focused on migration, defense and the war in Ukraine.
While Sunak meets leaders of all political stripes from around the world, he had notably warm words as he greeted Meloni at 10 Downing St., the British leader’s official residence.
The Conservative prime minister praised Meloni’s “very careful handling of the Italian economy.”
“I think the values between our two countries are very aligned, which is why we can work so well together on shared challenges, whether it’s responding to Putin’s illegal invasion in Ukraine, where again I pay tribute to your leadership, but also tackling illegal migration, which is something that is common to both of us,” Sunak said.
The two governments share an interest in stopping migrants reaching their countries by boat.
Sunak’s administration is passing a bill through Parliament that will deny the right to asylum to anyone who arrives in the U.K. without permission. The legislation has been condemned by refugee groups and the United Nations’ human rights body.
The government also plans to send migrants who arrive by boat on a one-way trip to Rwanda, an equally controversial plan that is being blocked by legal challenges.
Meloni, whose far-right Brothers of Italy party leads Italy’s right-wing coalition government, has led a crackdown on people-smugglers and on rescue ships operated by charities that she says encourage migrants to risk dangerous voyages from north Africa across the Mediterranean.
Meloni told Sunak that “tackling traffickers and illegal migration is something that your government is doing very well. I’m following your work and I absolutely agree with your work and I think there are many things that we can do together.”
Meloni said “there is much more that we can do on many topics on which we are on the same side – defense, Ukraine.”
Unlike some far-right populists in the West, Meloni has taken a strongly pro-NATO, pro-European position on Russia’s war in Ukraine.
After their meeting the two leaders were due to have a private tour of Westminster Abbey, where King Charles III will be crowned on May 6.
A group of protesters gathered outside the gates of Downing Street as the leaders met, holding signs that read “No to fascist Meloni” and chanting: “Refugees in, Meloni out.”