Vidya Ram

May seeks to break Brexit impasse with pledges on EU citizen rights, transition period

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 10, 2018 Published on September 22, 2017

Theresa May

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday called for a two-year transition period for Brexit, offered guarantees over the rights of EU citizens resident in Britain and pledged to honour Britain’s financial commitments to the EU in a major speech here, as she sought to break the impasse in talks between Britain and Europe, as the March 2019 deadline for Britain’s exit fast approaches.

During the much anticipated speech, May sought to adopt a conciliatory tone, suggesting Brexit was based on the desire to take more “direct control of decisions...it does not mean we are turning our back on Europe or worse that we do not wish the EU to succeed.”

She said that Britain valued the contribution of EU citizens who had made Britain their home. “We want you to stay; we value you; and we thank you for our contribution to our nation…I want to incorporate our agreement fully into UK law and make sure the UK courts can refer directly to it,” she said.

May also set out proposals for a “strictly time limited” transition period that would benefit people and businesses in Britain and the EU, which would operate under the terms of Britain’s current relationship to the EU and its rules and regulations. “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.” Responding to criticism that this would involve letting down those who voted to leave, she said people had also voted to ensure the process would be “orderly and smooth.”

Being creative

May also addressed other issues such as her ambitions for the future economic relationship, suggesting that rather than being bound by existing models for the EU’s relationship, such as what it has with Norway or Canada, the two sides needed to be innovative and ambitious.As before, she ruled out remaining within the customs union and the single market. She also set out visions for a new security partnership with Europe.

For over a week ahead of the speech, British newspapers and television channels were brimming with background briefings and speculation about the speech in the former major European financial centre (and as some pointed out the home of infamous Italian diplomat Niccolo Machiavelli), seen as key to breaking the deadlock in negotiations between Britain and the EU, with some pitting it as the most significant speech the Prime Minister had made on the issue of Brexit. The final details of the speech were understood to still being worked on the evening before following conversations with the EU side about expectations. Among those in attendance were Chancellor Philip Hammond, seen as the driver of moves to a softer Brexit, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who last week in a lengthy piece in the Telegraph newspaper positioned himself as the voice of a harder line on Brexit, without a transition period.

Ahead of May’s speech Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator on Brexit warned that there was just one year left to reach an agreement on Britain’s orderly exit and certainty for EU citizens. “The sooner we make real ‘sufficient progress’ on the conditions of the UK's withdrawal, the sooner we can begin discussing our future partnership,” he said in a speech to the Italian senate on Thursday, seen as the EU’s opportunity to highlight issues it sought clarity from Britain on, including the rights of EU citizens, the financial settlement and the Irish border. He also affirmed that if there were to be a transition period EU rules and regulations would be applicable during this period.

Published on September 22, 2017

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