Admit where Britain needs the EU, Brussels chiefs warn ahead of Theresa May's Florence speech

Tajani says UK 'needs the EU more than what it is letting on at home'

Jon Stone
Brussels
@joncstone
Saturday 16 September 2017 22:40
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Theresa May should use her major Brexit speech in Florence next week to come clean with the British public about how much Britain needs cooperation with the EU on key issues, the President of the European Parliament said.

Antonio Tajani told The Independent that to break the deadlock in talks the Prime Minister needed to “admit” that on some issues the UK needed the EU more than the Government was “letting on” to its domestic audience.

Echoing warnings by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Tajani argued that it was Ms May’s duty to use the speech to put forward “concrete proposals” that would protect the rights of EU citizens, solve the question of the Northern Ireland border and settle the divorce bill.

The Prime Minister is travelling to the Tuscan city on Friday to make what is expected to be her most significant intervention in the Brexit process since her Lancaster House speech in January, when she committed to leaving the single market.

Speculation abounds, however, about whether the PM will use the opportunity to either publicly soften or harden her approach to talks, which ground to a halt at the end of August, with this month’s round already postponed to allow for further “consultation”.

Gianni Pittella, leader of the parliament’s socialist group, also told The Independent that the UK team had so far demonstrated an “incapacity” to engage properly with negotiations and that the speech should represent a change in approach.

“It would be high time for May to provide a clear position and strategy over Brexit [not only] to the EU negotiations team, but especially the British citizens and business that risk paying the highest price for the incapacity so far demonstrated by the British government,” Mr Pittella said.

“On the fiscal settlement, the EU just wants a simple principle to be respected: pacta sunt servanda – agreements must be respected. We hope Madame May won’t be so reckless to make UK come across as an unreliable actor on the international landscape.”

Parliament President Mr Tajani announced last week that he would ask the European Parliament to vote on whether the UK had made “significant progress” on the eve of Ms May’s appearance at Tory party conference.

Asked about what should be in the speech, he told The Independent: “The European Parliament’s position has always been clear: protecting the rights of EU citizens, preserving the achievements of the Good Friday Agreement and honouring the financial commitments made by the British government are matters that must be resolved in order for us to move forward.

“Solutions on these three key issues are what will form the basis of a sound post-Brexit relationship between the UK and EU.

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“I accept the UK’s decision to leave and would like us to maintain close relations after Brexit, but it is up to British negotiators to make concrete proposals, not the other way around.

“The UK Government has to decide on the exact nature of the relationship that it wants with the EU and, in some quarters, admit that it needs the EU more than what it is letting on at home now.”

Ms May’s trip to Florence recalls Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Bruges speech, where she famously declared that “we have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels”.

A leaked draft of the speech photographed in the hands of an aide by a Downing Street press photographer suggests PM is expected to pay tribute to Florence’s historic trading links with Britain stretching back to the Middle Ages.

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