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Italy PM vows 'constructive and friendly' Brexit negotiations after No10 talks

Britain's prime minister Theresa May talks with Paolo Gentiloni. Picture by Toby Melville/Pool Photo via Associated Press

Brexit negotiations "will not be easy" but the process must not become "destructive", Italy's prime minister has said after talks with Theresa May.

Paolo Gentiloni said his country would take a "constructive and friendly" approach to the divorce but warned it will be "difficult" to reach an agreement.

It comes after MPs overwhelmingly backed legislation allowing the prime minister to formally begin Brexit without changing it.

After talks with Mrs May in 10 Downing Street, the Italian premier said: "We are aware of the fact that negotiations will not be easy and we also know, and this will certainly be the Italian attitude, that we need a constructive and friendly approach.

"There is absolutely no point in having a destructive negotiation between the EU and the UK.

"So, obviously we will do this in the hope of fostering the unity of the 27 countries because without the unity of the 27 countries, it will be difficult to come to some agreement.

"We must ensure this unity will result in the best possible agreement with the UK."

Mrs May underlined plans to make guaranteeing the status of EU nationals living in the UK and those of Britons living in the rest of the bloc a top priority once talks finally begin.

She said: "I think there is goodwill on all sides in relation to this matter. We recognise people want reassurance for their future."

Brexit secretary David Davis has warned the House of Lords to do its "patriotic duty" and back the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.

The Bill will now need to be approved by peers before the prime minister can begin exit talks under Article 50 of the EU treaties, which she has promised by April.

A government source has stressed that the Lords will face an "overwhelming public call to be abolished" if it attempts to frustrate the progress of the legislation.

And Mr Davis told unelected peers not to try to change the simple two-clause Bill as it was passed by MPs unamended, which he said "reflected the will of the people".

Asked if the Lords would face "dire recriminations" if it amended the Bill, he told Sky News: "I've seen these bloodcurdling things, they're silly.

"I mean, the simple thing is the Lords is a very important institution.

"I expect it to do its job and to do its patriotic duty and actually give us the right to go on and negotiate that new relationship (with the EU)."

The Liberal Democrats have vowed to continue trying to amend the legislation after it comes to the Lords on February 20 to ensure a second referendum on the final exit deal achieved by Mrs May.

After 40 hours of debate over five days, Jeremy Corbyn's decision to order his MPs to back the legislation ensured a smooth passage in its final Commons stage, where it was passed by 494 votes to 122 – a majority of 372.

But the Labour leader's authority was called into question after senior frontbencher and ally Clive Lewis quit the shadow cabinet to defy a three-line whip and vote against the Bill.

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