UK’s May chooses Florence for major speech on post-Brexit relation with EU

The artwork 'Calamita Cosmica' by Italian artist Gino de Dominicis in from of a giant skeleton is on display at Forte Belvedere as part of the exhibition 'Ytalia. Energia, Pensiero, Bellezza. Tutto e connesso' in Florence, Italy, 31 May 2017. [Maurizio Degli Inocenti/EPA]

Prime Minister Theresa May will make a speech on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union on 22 September in the Italian city of Florence, her spokesman said yesterday (13 September).

The speech will focus on what kind of ties Britain wants to have with the EU after it leaves the bloc in March 2019 – something British negotiators have been keen to discuss with a so-far reluctant Brussels.

“The prime minister wanted to give a speech on the UK’s future relationship with Europe in its historical heart,” May’s spokesman told reporters.

“She will underline the government’s wish for a deep and special partnership with the European Union once the UK leaves the EU.”

Negotiations on the terms of the divorce with the EU have made limited progress since May started a two-year countdown to Brexit. That has prompted warnings from the EU that discussions on the future relationship between the two could be pushed back from their intended start time of October.

Brexit talks set to miss October deadline as impatience grows

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Thursday (31 August) that both sides were “quite far” from reaching the “sufficient progress” necessary to open talks about the UK’s future relationship with the EU after it leaves the bloc.

The September round of Brexit talks has been pushed back by a week until the end of the month, in what EU diplomats said was a move designed to allow May to make her speech. Britain said the rescheduling was to allow both sides more time to make progress.

May’s speech could add weight to the British push to move talks forward, which ministers say is a crucial step in providing certainty for businesses worried about how Brexit will affect their ability to trade across borders.

Her choice of venue – a city celebrated as the birthplace of the Renaissance period and made wealthy by international trade and banking – is a nod to the kind of free-trading relationship Britain wants to maintain with Europe and develop globally.

Sceptics have said the British approach amounts to cherry picking the benefits of EU membership without paying for them.

“The UK has had deep cultural and economic ties spanning centuries with Florence – a city known for its historical trading power,” the spokesman said.

“As the UK leaves the EU we will retain those close ties. As the prime minister has said many times, we are leaving the EU, not Europe.”