Italy has postponed high-level talks with France after Paris accused Rome of acting “irresponsibly” by turning away hundreds of stranded migrants on board a rescue boat.
The jibe comes as Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte considered postponing a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said Rome had acted with “cynicism and irresponsibility”.
Interior minister Matteo Salvini, who is deputy premier and leader of the anti-immigrant League Party, called on Mr Macron to apologise and said he was not prepared to take criticism from a country which regularly stopped migrants on their shared border.
Despite the comments, Paris said it had not received any formal request for an apology and that it believed the planned meeting between its respective leaders would go ahead.
“We must never give in to emotions, which some people manipulate,” said the French president, who swerved direct questions on the issue while visiting western France.
Mr Macron had suggested Italy’s new leadership was attempting to make a high-profile break with previous governments in refusing to take in the ship, instead of dealing with underlying issues such as development and security in the migrants’ home countries.
Italy and Malta did not allow the Aquarius vessel to dock. It is now heading to Spain, which has said it will allow the ship to dock. The boat is being escorted by two Italian ships on a journey that will take four days.
The refusal to allow the ship to dock has been branded “shameful” by the UN refugee agency’s chief Filippo Grandi, an Italian national.
The ongoing diplomatic row follows several countries failing to live up to their 2015 pledge to take some asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, which have become the first port of call for most migrants entering Europe.