Romano Prodi, the economist and former Italian prime minister, said the Brexit negotiations had made little progress in the first year after the referendum and urged both sides to begin making concessions on trade and immigration to reach a deal.
In an interview with the Observer, he said that more and more people were suggesting to him in private that a second referendum may be needed. However, he said a “historic compromise” would eventually be reached because the Europe-wide economic consequences of failure had been heavily underestimated. “Maybe I am biased, being an economist, but it may be that there is still an imprecise [understanding] of the real economic consequences of Brexit,” he said. “This is why I am now looking deeper and deeper that a compromise must be reached. Not to repeat the referendum as is mentioned more and more often in private conversations – I think that is impossible, or very difficult – but to find a compromise to avoid suicide.”
Prodi said he used such strong language because of “the damage for the UK” that would come as a result of crashing out of the EU with no deal. While Theresa May has made ending free movement a red line in talks with the EU, Brussels has repeatedly stated that full single market access is impossible without handing freedom of movement to EU nationals.
Prodi suggested a British compromise on immigration that would see some sectors given “an exception”. He said Britain should begin breaking the issue down “step by step and sector by sector”.
“For example, we have joint scientific projects in which the UK has always had a strong position because of your universities and tradition,” he said. “Clearly, movement of manpower in this sector is of deep interest and does not move any passion even in the core of anti-European British [voters]. In my opinion, you should start giving guarantees in all these fields in which there is a common interest to have an exception.”