Florence May goes to heart of Europe for key speech

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Peter Walker Po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent

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.

May will speak in the his­toric Ital­ian city on 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 first 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.

May’s spokesman gave no de­tails of what the prime min­is­ter would be say­ing in the speech, and whether it would in­clude any new in­for­ma­tion or pro­pos­als.

“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.

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. Trade with Eng­land was a key part of the Floren­tine econ­omy dur­ing this pe­riod.

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, 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 big ex­pla­na­tion of her plans for Brexit, be­gin­ning with her speech at Lan­caster House in Lon­don in Jan­uary, fol­lowed in March by a let­ter to the Euro­pean coun­cil president, Don­ald Tusk, trig­ger­ing ar­ti­cle 50, the for­mal start of the Brexit process.

to see if her stance has soft­ened fol­low­ing a some­times tricky start to Brexit talks.

Theresa May’s spokesman said she wanted to give a speech on ‘the UK’s fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with Europe in its his­tor­i­cal heart’

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