In her keynote speech in Florence this afternoon, Prime Minister Theresa May told the assembled media and some of her ministers, but nobody from the EU: “Britons have never totally felt at home being in the EU. The EU never felt to us like an integral part of our national story.”
And as widely trailed, during the speech Mrs May announced a post-Brexit transition period which could last up to two years.
She started her speech by saying: “It’s good to be here in this great city of Florence today at a critical time in the relationship between the UK and the EU. We are moving through a new and critical period in the UK’s relationship with the EU.” However, she said she looked ahead with optimism. “This will be a defining moment in the history of our nation.”
She spoke about the partnership between the EU and the UK. “That partnership is important,” she said. “We see shared challenges and opportunities in common.”
She mentioned the work the Royal Navy is doing alongside the Italian navy in the Mediterranean and spoke of the two countries working together in the fight against terrorism, mass migration and terrorism. She stressed: “We may be leaving the EU but we are not leaving Europe, and explained that the citizens of the UK “want more direct control of their daily lives in Britain by those who are accountable to them”.
She reiterated the UK’s determination to allow EU nationals to stay here. “I want to repeat – we want you to stay,” she said. “We value you and we thank you for your contributions to our national life. The guarantee I am giving is real.” However, she said that during the implementation period, EU migrants would have to register once they got here.
Mrs May said it was “essential that the quality of our security co-operation is maintained” and spoke of a bold new strategic agreement – a treaty, that needed to be negotiated.
Of the proposed implementation period she said it would start after we have left the EU and during this time the EU and the UK would have access to one another’s markets on current terms. The exact time would have to be negotiated but would be around two years.
On trade, she refused to endorse either of the deals the EU has with Norway and Canada. “The UK is in a completely different relationship from Norway and Canada,” she said. “We can create a partnership that is completely different from those two. Let’s think creatively, let’s be ambitious.” However, she rejected membership of the European Economic Area. “EEA membership means we have to adopt new EU rules, over which we have no influence and no vote,” she said. It wouldn’t work. We can do better.”
During questions from the media, she said there would be a “settlement of all the issues” and added: “The UK will honour commitments made during the period of our membership and we will make an ongoing contribution to cover our share of the costs involved.”
Interviewed by Sky News after the speech, our former leader Nigel Farage said the words had “very little substance”. “We are leaving the EU in name only; we are rebadging the status quo. I think the most telling line she spoke was ‘we don’t seek an unfair competitive advantage’. But that’s what I voted for.
“Anyone who has worked in business knows that when you enter negotiations, you must be prepared to walk away. She dropped that thought today.” He added that he was concerned that Mrs May’s vision of a two year transition “may become many more than that”.
He was asked about the EU’s negotiating team. “I don’t think Mr Barnier wants a deal,” he said. “We keep giving and giving and giving and get nothing back in return. Our only hope, I think, is to go straight to the member states and to the manufacturers and if that route doesn’t work, rather than waste years of our lives, to walk away and start again.”