London (AFP) - Italy's far right deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini has accused the European Union of attempting to "swindle" the United Kingdom out of the Brexit people voted for in the landmark 2016 referendum, The Sunday Times reported.
"My experience in the European parliament tells me you either impose yourself or they swindle you", Salvini told the weekly as he urged prime minister Theresa May to take a harder stance in negotiations to sever ties with the trading bloc.
May and her ministers are scrambling to forge agreements with each of the EU's 27 member states after a week which saw her already fragile "Chequers plan" for Brexit knocked back by Brussels chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
On Thursday Barnier rejected May's plan to keep the border between EU member Ireland and the UK province of Northern Ireland open, with a dual system of taxes levied by each side for the benefit of the other.
But League party leader Salvini has urged May to consider taking a hard line, potentially leaving the EU without securing a deal. "Because on some principles there is no need to be flexible and you should not go backwards,” he told The Times.
The paper said he also implied the EU is attempting to punish Britain for seeking to leave, claiming: "There is no objectivity or good faith from the European side."
"I hope the negotiations end well for the UK to serve as an example of the people coming out on top of the EU," he added.
"I remember the referendum stage as an example of participation and freedom; I hope it can be an opportunity for the British."
Barnier has attempted to scupper May's plan to circumvent Brussels in striking a deal with the member states, insisting that there is not a "sliver of difference" between him and the 27 nation leaders.
But according to The Times Salvini has said he would welcome one-on-one talks with May, undermining Barnier's authority as the head of talks.