Saturday 24 February 2018

Brexit: No one from the EU Commission is going to Theresa May's big speech

British PM Theresa May
British PM Theresa May

Jon Stone

No European Commission officials will be travelling to Florence to attend Theresa May’s landmark speech on the Brexit negotiations, The Independent can reveal, in what appears to be a snub to the Prime Minister.

The Independent understands that Brussels officials and negotiators will be staying away from the PM’s critical address, despite chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier already being in Italy to address local politicians the day before.

In the audience instead will be Ms May’s own cabinet ministers – including Boris Johnson, who laid out his own (conflicting) vision for what Brexit should look like, in a 4,000-word Daily Telegraph article less than a week ago.

Others ministers in the audience will include Brexit Secretary David Davis, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

The news comes a week after Ms May was admonished by MEPs for refusing to appear before a public meeting of the European Parliament, amid further signs of souring relations between the two negotiating parties.

The Florence speech is expected to be the Prime Minister’s biggest Brexit intervention since her Lancaster House speech in January, when she committed to leaving the single market. It is said to include an “open and generous offer” to the EU, according to one Cabinet minister who spoke to the BBC.

Read more: UK has nearly 100,000 more Irish-born people than Ireland's UK-born population

However, Ms May (who is flying in from a UN meeting in New York) will speak to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker by phone on the Thursday afternoon before the speech, a European Commission spokesperson confirmed.

Reporters present at the UN where Ms May gave an address said she was spoke to a room with a large number of empty seats.

Mr Barnier is expected to respond to the speech on Friday, after its currently mysterious contents become clear. A Commission spokesperson, speaking in Brussels on Thursday, said he would wait until the speech had been delivered to comment.

The event in Florence is thought to be an attempt by Ms May to break the deadlock in Brexit negotiations, the latest round of which was due to be held this week, but have been postponed until after speech takes place.

It is thought that the speech might include a pledge that no EU country will lose out from the EU budget as a result of Britain leaving the bloc. The subject of the divorce bill has been a major sticking point in talks so far, with little “concrete progress”, according to the EU Commission.

Other reports suggest the UK might offer the EU €20bn – down from the claimed €50bn figure apparently floated by the Commission.

Independent News Service

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