Last month’s Florence speech achieved its objective of moving Brexit negotiations with the EU forward, Theresa May insisted on Monday as she briefed parliament following MPs’ return to Westminster.
Her statement marks the start of a critical period in the Brexit process, when parliament will debate key legislation and European governments will vote on whether to move talks forward to the next stage.
“The purpose of the Florence speech was to move negotiations forward,” she told the House of Commons. “And that’s exactly what has happened.”
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, had said there was a “new dynamic” to the talks, Mrs May said, before praising David Davis, Brexit secretary, for his work on the issue.
However, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition, dismissed the progress that had been made.
“Fifteen months on from the referendum, no real progress has been made,” he said, in response to the statement.
Mrs May stuck closely throughout her statement to the language she used in the Florence speech, which was negotiated during a lengthy cabinet meeting and trod carefully between enraging the Conservative party’s pro-European and Eurosceptic wings.
In particular, she stuck to the government’s promise to ensure that no remaining EU state was better or worse off during a post-EU transition period than it would have been if the UK had not left. Most observers believe this represents a promise to pay around €20bn to the EU after the UK’s departure.
However, Mrs May also hinted at the government’s preparations for the possibility the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 with no deal about future relations.
“It’s also our responsibility as a government to prepare for every eventuality,” Mrs May said. “So that’s exactly what we’re doing.”