Theresa May gave the long anticipated speech setting out the government’s plan for Brexit in Florence this afternoon (Friday 21st September), where she stated that Britain will exit the EU before 29th March 2019.
The PM proposes for a “strictly time limited” two-year implementation period to follow to allow for adjustments, where current terms regarding trade and security measures would remain in place. She also vowed Britain will “honour comments it made during our membership” during this time.
May’s speech focused on the UK’s continuing partnership and unity with the EU despite Brexit, stating that the UK will remain “a proud member of the family of European nations”.
May names terrorism and the migration crisis as two challenges that Europe must continue to tackle together.
However, she also said that the referendum was about Britain’s sovereignty, a reason why it never “entirely felt at home in the EU” and this must therefore take precedence in the new relationship.
There was some surprise expressed online at the setting of May’s delivery in the renowned picturesque city. Held in the famous Santa Maria Novella church, the speech was given in front of a plain, grey backdrop.
The PM revealed a conciliating stance on protecting the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, but said that this could not be set in stone.
Regarding the single market, May stated she wanted to find a balance of the benefits and disadvantages to both the EU and Britain.
She rejected the idea of Britain operating under a Canadian or Norway-style trade agreement would be “unimaginative” and a “restriction” for the UK.
The speech sidestepped Brussels and appealed directly to European leaders in an attempt to further talks that have been delayed mainly by the issues of an exit bill, citizen’s rights and the Northern Ireland border.
May called on her EU partners to be “imaginative and creative” when it came to negotiations in an effort to end the deadlock with Brussels.
There were however no EU leaders in the audience, which consists of mainly of media and Italian businesses and diplomats.
May presented the idea that Brexit is a beginning as well as an end, stating that this is a period of “evolution of the relationship between the UK and the EU”.
May calls a successful new partnership the “prize” of positive Brexit negotiations, and appears optimistic about Britain’s “bright” future.
A small but bold number of pro-EU protesters gathered in front of the Florentine church, waving placards and condemning May’s stance on Brexit.
The speech follows a turbulent week in her cabinet, most notably due to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who has been accused of being an out of touch ‘backseat driver’ to the Brexit negotiations.