Mario Monti, 74, who lead Italy between 2011-2013 and is also a former European Union commissioner said Europeans “should find ways to upgrade the use of English” in official bodies once the UK had left the bloc.
Mr Monti said, speaking at the Foreign Press Awards in London last week, that the move had “two purposes” – taking one of Britain’s “very best products” as well as giving the EU a competitive edge over Britain on the world stage.
He said: “I think we should upgrade the ways we use English and it should become the language of the European Union. I exaggerate a bit — there should be a bit of French.
“It will be a very appropriate gesture to the UK It would help us Europeans to become more competitive by using fewer languages.”
The comments have already been met with derision from at least one Eurosceptic Conservative MP.
Peter Bone, 65, who also sits on the Commons Brexit committee, said: “I thank the former prime minister for recognising that English is the language of business and the international language.
“I think that’s supposed to be a compliment.”
Mr Bone added: “I think – this is a very personal idea – that the European Union in the moment when the UK leaves should take the decision of upgrading the use of the English language in European Union affairs.
“It’s already there as one of the working languages. The [membership of the] Irish Republic, that we hope will not be squeezed into a system of very very difficult borders, will at any rate imply the use of English.
“But I think we should find ways to upgrade the use of English with two purposes.
“If English at the limit were to become the language of the European Union – I am exaggerating a bit … there would be two implications: One – it would be a very appropriate gesture of tribute by the European Union towards the UK by forcing it to give to us one of the very best products of Britain – the language.
“And secondly I think that it would help us Europeans to become more competitive by using fewer languages and we would become maybe more competitive to the UK … So I think if we have enough imagination there will be a lot of life after Brexit and maybe there will be new forms of enjoying life together.”
The MP for Wellingborough added: “I think that’s supposed to be a compliment. It’s a recognition of our global role. A German pilot landing in Milan will already be talking to Italian air controllers in English.
“I would be even happier if that was said by the French.”
Mr Monti’s comments are also likely to anger the French.
Currently both English and French are the official languages for the bloc when conducting EU matters.