Theresa May set to make an ‘open and generous offer’ to the EU

Written by Martin Banks on 22 September 2017 in News

Florence speech will outline proposed UK financial settlement and length of post-Brexit transition period.

Theresa May | Photo Credit: Press Association

Theresa May will say in Florence today that in hindsight the Brexit process will be remembered “not for a relationship that ended but for a new partnership that began.”

According to extracts of her speech released by Downing Street overnight she will call for a time-limited transition period once the UK leaves and will need to offer a method or number regarding Britain’s financial obligations.

Downing Street is calling the speech, in the cloisters of the Santa Maria Novella, a 14th century basilica in Florence “bold,” “confident” and “ambitious.”


Earlier on Friday, it was reported that she will call for a flexible or staggered transition, which allows different sectors of the economy to adapt to new post-Brexit arrangements at different speeds.

She is also expected to make an “open and generous offer” to the EU regarding the UK’s financial settlement, but is unlikely to put forward an actual figure. Previous reports suggested the UK is prepared to offer at least €20bn to honour its budget commitments until 2020, the end of the current EU multiannual budget period.

This comes after May on Thursday chaired a two-and-a-half-hour cabinet meeting to brief ministers on the contents of her speech. The Work and Pensions Secretary, David Gauke, told reporters that May “has the backing of all of the cabinet.

"Downing Street is calling May's Florence speech, in the cloisters of the Santa Maria Novella, a 14th century basilica, “bold,” “confident” and “ambitious”

The city of Florence was chosen, apparently, because it symbolises European success before the EU.

Ahead of her speech, ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt, who is the European Parliament’s coordinator for Brexit, focused on the Irish issue, adding that “Ireland is crucial to the Union.”

Speaking on a fact-finding mission to Belfast, the border area and Dublin, the Liberal ALDE group deputy underlined that the Irish border issue is one of the EU's three key priorities for the Brexit negotiations.

He noted, “The Irish border and all related issues are a priority in the negotiations. Ireland must not pay the price for Brexit. Ireland must not be used as a bargaining chip in the negotiations, and nor must any other member”.

“The European position is the Irish position”, he told a joint meeting of the country’s parliamentary committees on European Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence.

Verhofstadt said that there can be no return to hard borders in Europe and certainly not to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“Borders, it seems to me, are best when they are just lines on maps. And reducing borders to lines on maps is in many ways what the European Union is all about. And this is certainly the case for Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. This border created chaos, hate and violence. So to reduce this to a line on a map was a crucial achievement”, he said.

Verhofstadt met political leaders in Northern Ireland, before visiting the Border area and meeting farming organisations, business and transport representatives and the community-based organisation, Border Communities against Brexit. In the Republic of Ireland, after meeting the Taoiseach, he spoke to Members of both Houses of the National Parliament.

Meanwhile Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, told the Italian parliament that he was anticipating May’s Florence speech in a “constructive spirit”, but criticised the “major uncertainty” on key issues, adding that the EU “expects clear commitments from Britain.” He set out the three main issues as being EU citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, and the question of the Irish border.

He added, “A rapid agreement on the conditions of the UK’s orderly withdrawal, and a transition period, is possible. For that to happen, we would like the UK to put on the table, as soon as next week, proposals to overcome the barriers.”

“A rapid agreement on the conditions of the UK’s orderly withdrawal, and a transition period, is possible. For that to happen, we would like the UK to put on the table, as soon as next week, proposals to overcome the barriers” Michel Barnier

Elsewhere, European council president Donald Tusk, speaking in Tallinn on Thursday, said, “We should all be aware that Brexit remains one of the main tasks for us. This will be the subject of our next meeting in October.”

The European Parliament, meanwhile, will adopt a resolution in its early October session that will primarily focus on the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, post - Brexit. The resolution will also outline Parliament’s priorities with regard to Ireland/Northern Ireland and assess the situation on the financial settlement.

According to Parliament sources, the resolution will also state whether sufficient progress has been reached on the three separation issues, which is a prerequisite for talks to progress to the second phase of negotiations.

The assembly’s president Antonio Tajani said: "Given the current state of play of negotiations and the current position of the UK, it would seem very difficult that sufficient progress can be achieved by October on separation issues in order to enter phase two of the negotiations.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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