Brexit Britain from Abroad: May’s Italian Job
May Offers Details to Break Brexit Deadlock
In a major speech on how Britain wants to exit the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May called Friday for a two-year “implementation period” after Brexit, during which trade and travel, customs regulations and security arrangements would continue on current terms.
May’s remarks in Florence immediately stirred debate in Britain and across Europe about exactly what she meant. But the consensus was that Britain means to leave the European Union as promised in March 2019, but remain a full trading partner, pay its full share to the European Union budget and fully abide by its collective rulings for an additional two years, more or less.
In short, this appears to mean that a first, political, diplomatic Brexit will happen in March 2019 — and that full trade and travel Brexit will happen in 2021.
Never Part of EU
May suggested Britain had for geographical reasons never felt completely part of Europe and the vote to leave taken narrowly in the referendum in June 2016 was in part to regain "domestic democratic control" from the EU.
The prime minister suggested there was a profound responsibility to make the decision work and be "imaginative and creative" in making a new relationship between the UK and the EU.
May referred to the 14 papers published by the UK on Brexit and three rounds of sometimes "tough" negotiations with "concrete progress" being made on issues such as Northern Ireland and the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe.
Addressing EU citizens in Britain she said: "We want you to stay, we value you and we thank you for your contribution to national life," and added that she wanted them to be able to continue living their lives in the same way.
"Life for us will be different," May said but added that she hoped the EU and UK would stay as partners, "rather than as part of the EU" with a new economic relationship and a new relationship on security.
May Drops Her No Deal Approach
The speech was seen by some as a means by May to break deadlocked Brexit negotiations. The fourth round of talks was delayed by a week to September 25.
The UK wants to move talks on to trade, but the bloc is seeking to settle terms of the so-called "divorc" first (specifically how much Britain will pay for commitments made before it leaves), citizens' rights and Northern Ireland's border with the Republic of Ireland. This border will become the only UK/EU land frontier.
May said some of the figures put forward about how much the UK would have to pay when it withdraws from the EU – anything up to €80 billion or more – had been "exaggerated and unhelpful."
She did not provide a potential figure, although she said the EU would not have to "pay more or receive less" for the remainder of the bloc's current budget.
A Step Forward
In delivering her most detailed roadmap yet for the divorce, May gave the clearest indication yet that Britain will pay to smooth its departure from the bloc. Her words were immediately welcomed by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
“The U.K. will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership,” May said in a much-anticipated speech in the Italian city of Florence. A government official later clarified that meant she was open to discussing financial commitments beyond the scope of the EU budget, and the U.K. would honour its dues more broadly.
She made the promise while also proposing paying money and accepting the EU’s rules for two years after Brexit takes effect in March 2019 in return for a transitional period which mirrors the status quo of tariff-free, regulation-light commerce — and freedom of movement.
Confusion in EU
Brussels has said clearly that Britain can keep close economic ties with the EU after Brexit but only if it accepts EU rules. However, it seems that many in the UK government share Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's position that "we can have our cake and eat it".
"I think the [EU 27] are completely baffled, because they are trying to negotiate with a country that has not reached an agreement with itself about what it wants," says Quentin Peel, expert on European politics at Chatham House in London.
"As a result, the negotiations go nowhere. Let me give you an example - a good example of the sort of deal that might be possible and the problem - and that is a deal to keep the City of London as the most important financial centre for the whole of Europe."
A senior German official told him last week they would be "delighted to keep the City of London as the real focus" but on condiution of that all parties agree on the common rules.
"And that's where it hits a brick wall on the British side, because the British say 'No no no, we want to have the right to set our own rules for the City of London - regardless of what the EU may demand'."
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