Prime Minister’s speech in Florence

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, made a speech in the Italian city of Florence on 22 September 2017, to announce her vision of a new era of cooperation and partnership between the UK and the EU following Brexit.

A transcript of the speech (exactly as delivered) is available at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pms-florence-speech-a-new-era-of-cooperation-and-partnership-between-the-uk-and-the-eu

She made the speech in an attempt to break a perceived deadlock in the on-going Brexit meetings with the EU, due to continue next week with the 4th round of negotiations, and to move on to talk about the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

There are a number of major differences between the UK and the EU in some areas of the negotiations which are currently focused on the arrangements for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and covers the topics of EU Citizens Rights, Ireland and Northern Ireland and a financial settlement required by the EU from the UK.

On Ireland she said, the UK was committed to protect the progress made in Northern Ireland over recent years and the lives and livelihoods that depend on this progress.

As part of this, we and the EU have committed to protecting the Belfast Agreement and the Common Travel Area and, looking ahead, we have both stated explicitly that we will not accept any physical infrastructure at the border.

We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland – and indeed to everyone on the island of Ireland – to see through these commitments.

She said, in regards to ensuring the rights of EU citizens in the UK (which is due to be embedded in UK law),

Where there is uncertainty around underlying EU law, I want the UK courts to be able to take into account the judgments of the European Court of Justice with a view to ensuring consistent interpretation. On this basis, I hope our teams can reach firm agreement quickly.

The UK position on this is that British courts should have the final say while the EU considers that the European Court of Justice should have the final say. This is non-negotiable as far as the EU is concerned.

For a future Trade agreement between the UK and the EU, she also dismissed the idea of using an existing model, such as the arrangement between the EU and Norway or the Free Trade agreement between the EU and Canada, as a template.

As I said at Lancaster House, let us not seek merely to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. Instead let us be creative as well as practical in designing an ambitious economic partnership which respects the freedoms and principles of the EU, and the wishes of the British people.

To support this approach, she pointed out that the UK is currently the EU’s largest trading partner, is one of the largest economies in the world and it’s market is of considerable importance for many businesses and jobs across the continent.

The European Union has shown in the past that creative arrangements can be agreed in other areas. For example, it has developed a diverse array of arrangements with neighbouring countries outside the EU, both in economic relations and in justice and home affairs.

Furthermore, we share the same set of fundamental beliefs; a belief in free trade, rigorous and fair competition, strong consumer rights, and that trying to beat other countries’ industries by unfairly subsidising one’s own is a serious mistake.

So there is no need to impose tariffs where we have none now, and I don’t think anyone sensible is contemplating this.

In order for a future trade partnership to work she suggested an appropriate mechnaism should be found for resolving future disputes without the involvement of the European Court of Justice or UK courts.

It wouldn’t be right for one party’s court to have jurisdiction over the other. But I am confident we can find an appropriate mechanism for resolving disputes.

Presumably using an International Court or arbitration service.

She also proposed an “implementation period” after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, with access to one another’s markets continuing on the current terms, for a time limited period.

…such an agreement on the future partnership will require the appropriate legal ratification, which would take time.

It is also the case that people and businesses – both in the UK and in the EU – would benefit from a period to adjust to the new arrangements in a smooth and orderly way.

As I said in my speech at Lancaster House a period of implementation would be in our mutual interest. That is why I am proposing that there should be such a period after the UK leaves the EU.

She suggested the implementation period (which has also been called a transitional period previously) should be for not more than 2 years and that during the implementation period EU citizens coming to work and live in the UK would be required to register – something which will probably not go down well in the EU.

For example, it will take time to put in place the new immigration system required to re-take control of the UK’s borders.

So during the implementation period, people will continue to be able to come and live and work in the UK, but there will be a registration system – an essential preparation for the new regime.

There was also an indication that the UK would continue payments to the EU to honour commitments made previously. If this was meant during the transitional period of 2 years, it has been suggested that this could amount to around £18 million or 20 million euros in total, although an actual amount has not been specified by the PM or her Government.

Still I do not want our partners to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. The UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership.

Overall, there didn’t appear to any new suggestions which were significantly different to anything which has been said in the past. Whether her speech has succeeded in opening up the Brexit negotiations to discussions about the future relationship between the UK and the EU remains to be seen.