On Friday – a day many have called “the most important day for Brexit since the referendum” – Theresa May will delivers her much anticipated Brexit speech in Florence. The roughly 5000-word speech is scheduled at begin around 09:15 EDT and is expected to provoke an immediate response from Brussels.
Among the flurry of last minute preparations, earlier this week, the Telegraph reported that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will resign if May veers toward a “Swiss-style” EU arrangement in her speech (more here). Earlier today, BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg reported that May’s Friday speech will say the UK willing to pay €20BN during transition period “BUT only if we have access to single market + some form of customs union.” As RanSquawk added, the €20BN does not cover long term liabilities, so the eventual total departure bill to taxpayers will potentially be far higher.
Taking a step back, here is a bigger picture preview of what is known – and unknown – about tomorrow’s speech courtesy of RanSquawk
What will May Say?
Few specific details are available on what UK Prime Minister Theresa May will cover in her speech, to be delivered from Florence, Italy, on 22 September. However, it is expected that the material will be significant given that the UK delayed the fourth round of Brexit talks (which were set to take place in the week of 25 September). A spokesperson for May has been quoted as saying that the speech would outline the UK’s hopes for a “deep and special partnership” with the EU following Brexit. May was said to have discussed the particulars with her Cabinet on Thursday 21 September. At the time of publication, no firm details have been leaked, although a BBC reporter was told that May will seek a transitional agreement, with a time frame of two years being touted.
“In the wake of slow progress on Brexit negotiations, the United Kingdom may be preparing to adjust its approach,” analysts at Stratfor write. “Brexit negotiations have achieved limited progress so far, and the EU side has warned that talks are still far from the ‘sufficient progress’ necessary to move to their second phase, which is meant to address the future bilateral relationship” which the UK was eager to begin in October.
One theory that is gaining traction, therefore, is that the UK will offer some concessions to the EU which will help move the discussions on.
Tensions Within May’s Cabinet
The secrecy surrounding her speech was causing tension in May’s Cabinet. Reports in the Telegraph newspaper suggested that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would tender his resignation if May pivoted towards a ‘Swiss-style’ arrangement. The news drove sterling higher, with traders seemingly taking comfort from the idea that some of the more extreme, ‘hard’ voices around May would leave the Cabinet, allowing her to pursue a ‘softer’, more amenable deal.
However, the story was denied and it has been subsequently reported that May made moves to appease Johnson; the Telegraph reported “the Cabinet truce over Britain’s future payments to the EU involves paying substantial sums to the bloc, but no further payments after Britain’s transition period.”
The FT later wrote that PM May believes the UK can achieve a “bespoke” final deal with the EU, and May reportedly said neither a Canadian-style nor a Norway-style deal for single market was appropriate for the UK.
The Financial Times this week reported that the UK was set to make an “offer to fill a post-Brexit EU budget hole of at least €20bn” in an attempt to settle its so-called “diovrce bill.” The FT adds “UK officials have indicated Britain would ensure no member state would have to pay more into the EU budget or receive less money from it until 2020, the end of EU’s current long-term budget planning period. The expected hole in those two years after Brexit would be at least €20bn when payments the UK receives back from Brussels are excluded.
“A figure of €20bn is pretty close to estimates for what the UK’s net contribution to the EU budget would have been under the status quo ‘Remain’ scenario,” say analysts at RBC Capital, “however, it is unlikely that monies relating to the current EU budget period will be the end of the financial settlement negotiation between the UK and the EU.” Later reports, which followed Ma’s Cabinet meeting, suggested any financial settlement – which May would not directly address in her speech – would be contingent on single market access.
It is unclear how the EU might respond, given earlier demands from some suggesting a figure of as much as €60bln may be needed.
“On the EU side, any response next week which hints progress is sufficient to move towards discussing the future UK-EU trade deal before year end should be supportive of a view that the two-year Article 50 process isn’t too far off-track,” RBC says.
May is also expected to acknowledge the need for a transitional period to avoid a ‘Brexit cliff’, where the UK would continue to abide by EU rules in some areas, while phasing out a withdrawal in other areas. “While the British government seemed to be aiming for a two-year transition, we have been told May prefers a longer hiatus of three years, which would give her enough time to prepare for elections, to be held on their scheduled date, in 2022,” analysts at SGH Macro argue.
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Want more? Here is another preview, this time from Barclays?
Media speculation is mounting over the content of UK PM May’s Brexit Speech in Florence tomorrow. This is the first big Brexit-specific speech by the PM following the General Election. It is designed to outline the basis for negotiations at the fourth round of EU-UK negotiations in Brussels next week. Following that, the UK Conservative Party Conference will take place on 1-4 October, where PM May will need to satisfy her own party members with regards to the tone set over Brexit. Hence, the challenge for the PM in her speech will be to appear constructive to her EU partners, so as to advance the negotiation process, while at the same time not angering those within her own party, who may prefer a less accommodative course vis-a-vis the EU in the negotiations.
May is expected to outline three key issues – The transition, the EU withdrawal bill, and the future relationship.
- Transition – Highlights were provided by Chancellor Hammond last week. He insisted that the UK will leave the Single Market and the Customs Union in March 2019. The UK will seek to maintain the status quo of trade and access. A two-year transition period is seen as most likely to stop cabinet in-fighting.
- EU Withdrawal bill – PM May is likely to commit to the UK paying what is deemed reasonable during a transition period. Her traditional style has been vague and there is a chance she may continue with this approach, and stop short of stating an actual figure that could leave herself open to attack during the upcoming Tory Party conference. However, press speculation is mounting of a £20bn figure as a starting point for negotiations, conditional upon access to the single market and some form of Customs Union (source: BBC). We expect an eventual figure in the region of £40-50bn may be negotiable. The reaction to this from Brussels and the UK media will be important for PM May going into the Tory Party conference.
- Future relationship – Hammond gave some colour last week, focusing on financial services, and recognised concerns about the UK potentially deviating from high EU regulatory standards. We expect PM May to reiterate the importance of regulatory homogeneity in the short run. May is likely to try to insist on the need for the UK to negotiate trade deals, even if legally, this cannot begin until the second phase of negotiations.
- Reaction following the speech: The key to watch here would be the reaction from EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, as well as the UK press. The speech lays the foundations for the EU-UK negotiations next week, and EU officials have voiced increasing frustration over delays, bearing in mind that the principles for the first phase of negotiations, covering guarantees, commitments on citizens rights, are due to be agreed between October to December before it is possible to move on to trade issues in Phase 2.