London (AFP) – British Prime Minister Theresa May will make an eagerly anticipated Brexit speech in Florence on Friday, seeking to unlock stalled negotiations with Brussels as well as quell divisions in her own cabinet.
Six months after beginning the two-year process of withdrawing Britain from the European Union, the Conservative leader has yet to set out in detail what she wants from the divorce.
The lack of clarity was reinforced when May’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, laid out his own vision for Brexit in a newspaper article last weekend.
The prime minister has insisted her government was “driven from the front”, but Johnson’s intervention has raised the stakes.
A senior official in Brussels said there were “high expectations” for Friday’s speech, which is likely to address three blocked subjects — money, the Irish border and the rights of EU nations.
Businesses are also watching closely.
The head of the CBI lobby group of business leaders, Carolyn Fairbairn, warned the risks of leaving the EU without a deal felt “all too real”.
– ‘Say what she wants’ –
A fourth round of talks with the European Commission are due to begin next week and the question of Britain’s financial settlement remains a significant stumbling block.
Without progress, EU leaders are unlikely to accept Britain’s request to move the negotiations on to the future trading relationship at their next summit in October.
“The onus is on the British to come up with a serious offer to move the talks forward,” Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, told AFP.
“Theresa May needs to make a serious offer on the money that she hasn’t made so far. And on the transition, she needs to say what she wants.”
The Financial Times reported that May would offer to meet Britain’s commitments under the current EU budget, which runs to 2020, worth at least 20 billion euros (£18 billion, $24 billion).
This would mean continued payments during a transition deal that Britain wants to bridge the gap between Brexit in March 2019 and the implementation of a new trading arrangement.
A major problem for May is that her ministers still disagree on the future shape of Brexit.
In his 4,000-word article, Johnson — a leading voice for Brexit in last year’s referendum campaign — argued for a clean break with the EU, including on financial matters.
The foreign secretary, who has long held leadership ambitions, subsequently denied reports he had threatened to resign, and insisted the cabinet was as united as a…