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May hopes to end cabinet disquiet with Brexit speech

  • Published at 02:31 pm September 20th, 2017
May hopes to end cabinet disquiet with Brexit speech

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.

A fourth round of talks with the European Commission are due to begin on September 25 and the question of Britain's financial settlement remains a significant stumbling block.

The lack of clarity was reinforced when May's foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, laid out his own vision for Brexit in a newspaper article widely viewed as an attempt to force his premier's hand.

A senior official in Brussels said there were "high expectations" for May's speech, both on the money and another blocked issue – the rights of EU nationals living in Britain after Brexit.

The Financial Times reported that May would offer to meet Britain's commitments under the current EU budget, which runs to 2020, worth £18bn.

A major problem for May is that her ministers still disagree on the future shape of Brexit – highlighted by Johnson's 4,000-word article in the Daily Telegraph last weekend.

Johnson, a leading voice for Brexit in last year's referendum campaign who has long had leadership ambitions, argued for a clean break with the EU, including on financial matters.

He subsequently denied reports he had threatened to resign, and insisted the cabinet was as united as a "nest of singing birds".

Home of Machiavelli

Johnson's intervention highlighted the fragility of May's position, after her Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority in June's snap election.

The prime minister chose Florence to deliver her speech because it is the "historical heart" of Europe.

But some commentators have noted that the Italian city was also home to Machiavelli, the Renaissance philosopher and author of "The Prince" who has become a byword for slippery politicians.

The British prime minister has insisted she is in control, saying on Monday: "The UK government is driven from the front and we all have the same destination in our sights."

May has called a special cabinet meeting for Thursday morning, when she is expected to brief ministers about what she will say in Florence – and ensure they fall in line.

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