Did you think he didn’t mean it?

Because Matteo Salvini most certainly meant what he said.

A ship carrying some 630 migrants rescued while trying to cross the Mediterranean is stranded at sea after being turned away by both Italy and Malta. The Aquarius, which has more than 120 children and seven pregnant women onboard, saved hundreds from drowning in international waters on Saturday, but neither Rome nor Valetta has so far allowed it to dock.

The two nations are currently locked in a standoff, with Italy’s new interior minister Matteo Salvini threatening to bar all rescue ships from docking in the country’s ports unless Malta takes on the Aquarius.

Salvini reportedly sent a letter to the Maltese authorities saying he would ‘be forced to close Italy’s ports’ if the 629 migrants saved by the French charity SOS Mediterranee weren’t allowed to land at Malta’s capital Valletta. Mr Salvini, the leader of the right-wing anti-migrant League party, later tweeted: ‘Starting today, Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings, NO to the business of clandestine immigration’.

It would have sent a more effective message if the Italians had sunk both the original ship and the rescue boat in order to make it perfectly clear that no amount of sob stories and manufactured bathos was going to have any effect on their anti-invasion policy whatsoever, but turning away the charity vessel is significant improvement on past practices.

And why doesn’t the French vessel operated by the French charity simply make port in France? I understand there is a perfectly good Mediterranean port at Marseilles.

Basta. Salvare le vite è un dovere, trasformare l’Italia in un enorme campo profughi no. L’Italia ha smesso di chinare il capo e di ubbidire, stavolta C’è chi dice no.#chiudiamoiporti
– Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

“Enough. To save lives is a duty, to transform Italy into an enormous refugee camp, no. Italy has quit bowing its head and obeying, this time there are those who say no. #Weclosetheports”