All you Need to Know about May’s Florence Speech
Downing Street avoided today to report on the Florence speech and what went on during the cabinet meeting. Theresa May, who had earlier this morning returned to the UK on a plane with the foreign secretary Boris Johnson, was scheduled to hold a cabinet meeting at 10am (UK time)—which eventually started at 10.30am—in relation to her Florence speech.
Ministers had half an hour to read May’s Florence speech, before discussing and approving it. While everyone is waiting in anticipation to hear her speech tomorrow and the allegedly “generous” offer to the EU, a Downing spokesperson explained that “We can’t talk about cabinet without talking about the speech, and we are not talking about the speech.” I guess we’ll have to wait until tomorrow.
At the moment, the UK and the EU have different priorities. One is arguing that they won’t pay into the EU budget until they talk about their future relations, and the other demands to discuss financial obligations before moving on to negotiate the future relationship.
Theresa May has said before that she won’t be interested in an off-the-shelf deal that will resemble that of Norway or Canada, but a bespoke one, which will probably be met with some consternation by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.
According to whispers heard by the BBC’s political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg, May’s speech will possibly refer to a two-year transition period, a tailor-made deal that would suit the UK and it will exclude any freedom of movement, and a Brexit bill that still remains “quite opaque.” As the Spectator’s political editor James Forsyth wrote today in relation to the Conservative party’s Brexit split, “No one in the cabinet disputes that Britain must leave the EU single market. Free movement of people – the price of the single market membership – is out of question after the Brexit vote.” This would mean that May’s speech will try and navigate around a solution that offers an alternative to the single market, but, unfortunately, it might be something far away from what Brexiteers in the government have dreamt.
May’s former co-chief of staff, Nick Timothy, who is currently writing for the Daily Telegraph, wrote in today’s edition that May’s speech won’t deliver any “immediate breakthrough.” He continued: “In public, the Europeans will be surly. Expect negative briefing from the commission, sarcasm from Guy Verhofstadt, and a polite but not positive reply from Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker.”
Politico said that Barnier warned that the UK “will not achieve the ‘special’ bespoke trade deal it has demanded without lengthy negotiations after its official departure.” Barnier categorically stated that “We are not going to mix up models,” like those arrangements the EU has with countries such as Turkey, Switzerland, Canada or Norway.
Why is Theresa May giving a speech?
Due to the lack of progress in the Brexit negotiations between the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator David Davis and his EU’s counterpart Michel Barnier, May has decided to intervene by delivering a speech in Florence, Italy, tomorrow. The speech is designed to function as an opportunity for the UK to stimulate the negotiations and demonstrate how the government is ready to compromise, so that talks move beyond the withdrawal issues and into the future relationship with the EU, before negotiations formally resume in October.
Tory MP Anne Marie Trevalyan highlighted the importance of May’s speech in implementing the result of the referendum: “I’m looking forward to hearing [it]. This is another marker to progress the talks. There have been a lot of discussions over summer and more progress behind the scenes than they would admit to publicly.”
The speech is considered to be the third landmark statement from the PM, after her Lancaster speech in January and the triggering of Article 50.
Florence, Santa Maria Novella Church
The choice of Florence as the place of her speech, has puzzled many commentators, but, as an article in Politico explained, the choice of Florence is symbolic. An Italian official said: “We were told that May chose Florence because it is the historical heart of Europe and which existed without the need for the European Union. It used to be a European capital centuries before the EU was created, it’s a sort of Europe without the EU. May wants to give the message that Britain will remain in Europe even as it leaves the bloc.”
It would be positive to see May’s speech breaking the EU’s iceberg and warming the heart of the EU bureaucrats. If she delivers a strong and stable speech and an enticing deal that involves an offer on money, this would definitely be a game changer.