Theresa May is set to deliver a high-profile speech next week on the status of Brexit negotiations and her plans for the UK’s future outside of the EU.
The address, to be held in Florence on 22 September, is likely to be seen as a bid to break the deadlock in divorce talks, which resume in Brussels three days later.
The negotiations are faltering, with the EU saying after the latest round last month that there had been “no decisive progress” on key areas.
And European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has questioned Brexit Secretary David Davis’ commitment to the talks, new documents have revealed. On Wednesday, he said Britons will “soon regret” Brexit.
EU officials say they cannot move on to discuss a future relationship until “sufficient progress” has been made on three priority issues: the rights of expatriates, the Irish border and a financial settlement, or “Brexit bill”.
The UK believes the two phases – separation and future relationship – are “inextricably linked”, and has called on Brussels to show some flexibility.
The financial settlement – with the EU believed to be expecting a payment of around £50bn or more to cover remaining UK liabilities – has emerged as a major stumbling block, and the Prime Minister may look to make a breakthrough there.
The UK has said it will honour its obligations but said the era of big payments to Brussels ends with Brexit. No figure has been officially made.
The choice of venue – Florence, the Renaissance city steeped in European history – is not accidental.
Mrs May’s spokesman said: “The PM wanted to give a speech on the UK’s future relationship with Europe in its historical heart.
“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 many times, we are leaving the EU, not Europe.”
The next round of talks is now scheduled for the week of 25 September, and was pushed back from the original date a week before.
Mrs May’s official spokesman said the delay was not caused by the timing of the her speech.
“Both sides settled on the date for that round after discussions between senior officials in recognition that more time would give negotiators flexibility to make further progress,” he said.
(c) Sky News 2017: Theresa May to deliver major Brexit speech in Florence next week