Theresa May aiming to placate party factions ahead of Brexit speech

Theresa May will make her Brexit speech today.
Theresa May will make her Brexit speech today.
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The Prime Minister will seek to allay concerns that Britain is heading for a ‘cliff-edge’ as she sets out a plan for a transition period to give business more time to adapt to life outside the EU.

May to warn Europe it has much to lose if talks fail
But she will also address fears among some Cabinet colleagues that Britain will not fully leave the EU with a promise that any

transition would be “time-limited”.

In what will be seen as an attempt to seize the Brexit agenda back from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who used a newspaper article last week to talk up Britain’s prospects outside the EU, Mrs May will say the “future is bright”.

In a speech delivered in Florence, she will say: “Our fundamental strengths are considerable; 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.”

Mrs May is expected to try and move the Brexit talks forward with a more detailed offer on the UK’s contributions to the EU budget and its approach to the so-called ‘divorce bill’.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, yesterday expressed frustration that “major questions” remain unanswered on the UK’s approach to Brexit.

Mr Barnier has repeatedly warned there will be no discussions over future trading arrangements between the UK and EU until progress has been made on the rights of EU nationals, the Irish border and the ‘divorce bill’.

In a speech to the European Parliament, Mr Barnier said he would “listen attentively and constructively” what Mrs May has to say.

He warned time was running out to reach agreement before Britain leaves in March 2019.

“The question facing us over the coming months is serious, but simple: will the United Kingdom leave in an orderly fashion with an agreement, or not?” he said.

Amid reports that Mrs May will effectively offer a £20bn settlement as part of Brexit. Lib Dem leader Vince Cable insisted the true cost of leaving will be much higher.

Dr Cable said: “This government is being utterly reckless with the public finances by preparing to spend an absolute fortune simply to get out of Europe.

“This £20bn does not cover liabilities such as pensions and infrastructure projects already agreed to.

“Nor does it cover the cost of access to the single market. And nor does it cover the cost to the Exchequer in reduced tax receipts due to the slowdown in the economy.”

The Prime Minister also faced renewed calls to leave the option of Britain remaining in the European single market on the table.

Labour MP and former shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander, speaking for the Open Britain campaign group, said: “It’s staggering that the Government have taken over a year to accept the blindingly obvious.

“We will need a transition period and we will have to be realistic about our financial obligations before talks can progress.

“The clock is still ticking and the Government is in danger of simply replacing one cliff edge with another, as we still have absolutely no idea what our future trading relationship with the EU will be.”

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