A speech by Theresa May billed as an important moment in the Brexit negotiation process is to take place in Florence next week, Downing Street has announced,The Guardian reports.
May will speak in the historic Italian city on Friday 22 September “to update on Brexit negotiations so far”, the prime minister’s spokesman said. “She will underline the government’s wish for a deep and special partnership with the European Union once the UK leaves the EU,” he said.
News of the planned address emerged just over a week ago when Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said the next round of UK-EU talks on the subject would most likely be delayed as May planned to make an “important intervention” on the issue.
“The PM has said that she would provide updates on how the negotiations were going and be engaged in an ongoing conversation with Europe, and that’s what she’s doing,” he said.
May will be travelling to Italy purely to make the speech, which is not tied in to any bilateral talks or conferences. The list of attendees has yet to be announced, but Downing Street has informed the office of the Italian prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, about the event.
Asked why the venue had been picked, May’s spokesman said the prime minister “wanted to give a speech on the UK’s future relationship with Europe in its historical heart”.
He said: “The UK has had deep cultural and economic ties spanning centuries with Florence, a city known for its historical trading power. As the UK leaves the EU, we will retain those close ties. As the prime minister has said on many occasions, we are leaving the EU, not Europe.”
Under the guidance of the Medici dynasty, the then city state of Florence was one of the most important trading centres of medieval Europe and is often seen as the birthplace of the Renaissance.
Trade with England, especially London, was a key part of the Florentine economy during this period, notably in wool and cloth, though critics of Brexit might point out that this declined in the 16th century as Antwerp took over as a trade destination.
Speaking on Thursday, the chair of the retailer John Lewis said businesses would be seeking more details about how Brexit might shape the economy.
Charlie Mayfield – who was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme after the department store chain announced its lowest staff bonus for more than 60 years – was asked what he might want to hear from May in Florence.
He said: “We should be under no illusions – Brexit is having an effect on the economy. No question, it’s the same for everybody, and the main effects are sterling and confidence. “Uncertainty is one of the consequences of this, and of course businesses never like uncertainty, because it makes it hard to plan for the future.
“Personally, I think we need to do justice to this uncertainty, and there needs to be a serious parliamentary debate to figure out what kind of Brexit we’re going to have in the best interests of the country and the economy. I think that’s what is pressingly needed.”
The fourth formal round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels had been due to take place on 18 September but it was announced on Tuesday that this had been delayed for a week.
May’s spokesman denied that the Florence speech was the reason for this, saying: “Both sides have settled on the date for the next round, after discussions between senior officials, in recognition that more time and consultation would give negotiations a flexibility to make further progress.”
The speech will be seen as May’s third major explanation of her plans for Brexit, beginning with her speech at Lancaster House in London in January, where she first indicated her robust approach, including a willingness to leave the EU without a trade deal if needed.
Then in March, May wrote to the European council president, Donald Tusk, triggering article 50, the formal beginning of the Brexit process. Her letter reiterated the no-deal possibility and warned this could have consequences for security cooperation.
May’s speech in Florence will be scrutinised to see if this stance has softened following a tricky start to Brexit talks during which senior EU figures have expressed frustration over the UK’s demands and approach.