23 Sep 2017

British PM pushes for Brexit transition period

7:26 am on 23 September 2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said there should be a transition period of "about" two years after Brexit, during which trade should continue on current terms.

During the speech in Florence, Italy, Theresa May offered to allow EU migrants to continue to live and work in Britain, but through a new registration system

During the speech in Florence, Italy, Theresa May offered to allow EU migrants to continue to live and work in Britain, but through a new registration system Photo: AFP

EU migrants will still be able to live and work in the UK but they will have register with the authorities, under her proposals.

And the UK will pay into the EU budget so member states are not left out of pocket.

She hopes this offer, made in a speech in Italy, will unblock Brexit talks.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier described the speech as "constructive" and said the prime minister had shown "a willingness to move forward".

The prime minister also proposed a "bold new security agreement" and said the UK would be the EU's "strongest partner and friend".

On trade, she said the two sides could do "so much better" than adopt existing models.

There was "no need to impose tariffs where there are none now", the prime minister said.

She did not mention how much the UK would be prepared to continue to pay into the EU for two years after it leaves in March 2019, but it has been estimated as being at least 20bn euros ($NZ32.6m).

In her speech, Mrs May said the UK would "honour commitments" made while it had been a member to avoid creating "uncertainty for the remaining member states".

She also suggested that the UK and EU would continue working together on projects promoting long-term economic development and the UK would want to "make an ongoing contribution to cover our fair share of the costs involved".

When the two-year transition period is up, the UK and EU could move towards a new "deep and special partnership," she said.

But by March 2019, neither the UK or EU would be ready to "smoothly" implement new arrangements needed: "So during the implementation period access to one another's markets should continue on current terms and Britain also should continue to take part in existing security measures."

Such a period should be "time limited", she said, as neither the EU nor the British people would want the UK to remain in the EU longer than necessary - with its length being determined by how long it takes to set up new systems.

As new immigration systems would take time to introduce, she said "people will continue to be able to come and live and work in the UK, but there will be a registration system - an essential preparation for the new regime".

But she hoped to build a "comprehensive and ambitious" new economic partnership with the EU in the long-term.

This should not be based on existing agreements with Canada or European Economic Area membership, she said, but a "creative solution" should be found to reflect the existing relationship between the UK and EU.

To EU citizens in the UK she offered reassurance that "we want you to stay, we value you" and acknowledged differences with the EU over which courts should guarantee their rights after Brexit.

She said she wanted UK courts to take account of rulings by the European Court of Justice and hoped "on this basis, our teams can reach firm agreement quickly".

Responding to the speech, EU Brexit negotiator Mr Barnier, who did not attend, said the prime minister had "expressed a constructive spirit which is also the spirit of the European Union during this unique negotiation - the speech shows a willingness to move forward, as time is of the essence".

But he added that while her statements on EU citizens were "a step forward", they "must now be translated into a precise negotiating position of the UK government".

And he said he would have to examine the "concrete implications" of the UK's pledge that no member state would have to pay more as a result of Brexit adding: "We shall assess ... whether this assurance covers all commitments made by the United Kingdom as a member state of the European Union."

The European Parliament's Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said the UK's position was becoming "more realistic" but "a new registration mechanism for EU citizens going to live and/or work in the UK is out of the question".