Friday 20 April 2018

Theresa May to offer €20bn for transitional Brexit deal in landmark speech

World is watching us for Brexit deal success, British PM to tell EU leaders

Theresa May
Theresa May

By Arj Singh in Florence and David Hughes

THERESA MAY will tell European counterparts their shared political legacies depend on agreeing a good Brexit deal as she seeks to break the deadlock in negotiations over the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

The British Prime Minister will set out her plans for a transitional period from the formal date of Brexit in March 2019, expected to last two years, before moving to a permanent trade deal.

Mrs May is thought to be considering an offer of paying around €20 billion over the transition period in order to secure favourable trading arrangements, which would also help address Brussels' concerns about the potential hole in its current budget caused by the UK's exit.

And she is also reported to be ready to give ground on the issue of citizens' rights for EU nationals in the UK, enshrining the terms of any deal in a formal treaty.

Her landmark speech comes as an opinion poll suggested a majority of Britons now back staying in the European Union - with 52% in favour of remaining part of the bloc.

In the Italian city of Florence, Mrs May will say European leaders they have a "profound sense of responsibility" to agree good terms.

Her direct pitch to the continent's leaders will be seen as a further attempt to try to bypass the formal talks led by Brussels' Brexit chief negotiator Michel Barnier, which have stalled amid concerns of a lack of progress on the financial settlement, citizens' rights and the Northern Ireland border.

Mrs May will emphasise the historic nature of the negotiations as she calls for an "imaginative and creative" approach to securing a deal, in what may be seen as a fresh British complaint about the European Commission's perceived rigid approach to talks.

But Mrs May - who has repeatedly vowed that she would walk away with no deal rather than accept a "bad deal" from Brussels - will also stress that the UK has "considerable" fundamental economic strengths and an "indomitable spirit".

The Prime Minister will say that if a deal can be reached "then when this chapter of our European history is written, it will be remembered not for the differences we faced, but for the vision we showed" and "not for a relationship that ended but a new partnership that began".

She will acknowledge that Brexit is "inevitably a difficult process" but it is in "all of our interests for our negotiations to succeed".

"I believe we share a profound sense of responsibility to make this change work smoothly and sensibly, not just for people today but for the next generation who will inherit the world we leave them," she will say.

"The eyes of the world are on us but if we can be imaginative and creative about the way we establish this new relationship ... I believe we can be optimistic about the future we can build for the United Kingdom and for the European Union."

The Prime Minister's speech, which will build on the Brexit plans she set out in Lancaster House in January, will set out her vision for a "bold" economic and security partnership.

But she is thought to have rejected a Swiss-style "European Economic Area minus" deal, which could have involved ongoing payments to Brussels and potentially accepting the free movement of people.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, whose intervention on Brexit last week led to speculation he might be about to resign, was opposed to any continued payments for single market access after the transitional period expires.

After a marathon two-and-half hour session of the Cabinet on Thursday, Mr Johnson and Chancellor Philip Hammond - who have been at loggerheads all summer over Brexit - left No 10 together in an apparent show of unity.

The BBC reported that Mrs May was prepared to pay 20 billion euro over the period of the transition - a far lower figure than Brussels is thought to want.

Mrs May will also seek to end the impasse on citizens' rights, with the Financial Times reporting that the terms of an agreement would be written into a Brexit treaty rather than in legislation which MPs could seek to water down.

British officials have told negotiators they are considering whether future European Court of Justice rulings on citizens' rights should be taken into account by UK judges, the newspaper reported.

In an optimistic message about the strength of the UK, the Prime Minister will use her speech to insist that "Britain's future is bright".

"Our fundamental strengths are considerable," she will say, including "a legal system respected around the world; a keen openness to foreign investment; and enthusiasm for innovation; an ease of doing business; some of the best universities and researchers you can find anywhere; an exceptional national talent for creativity; and an indomitable spirit".

On the eve of Mrs May's speech, Mr Barnier issued a fresh warning that Britain must "settle the accounts" if it wants a free trade deal when it leaves the bloc.

Mr Barnier said there was still "major uncertainty" over the UK's approach on key issues and a "question of trust" about the financial settlement.

Mrs May's speech comes as a BMG Research poll for the Independent indicated a reverse in support for Brexit.

In a mirror image of the June 2016 referendum result, 52% supported remaining in the EU with 48% in favour of leaving.

Press Association

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