Theresa May has ruled out Britain staying in the European Economic Area or striking a deal with the EU similar to the one Canada enjoys during a speech meant to kick-step Brexit negotiations.
The Prime Minister told other EU countries that Britain wants to be their ‘strongest friend and partner’ after Brexit during the speech in Florence, Italy.
But although May was attempting to soothe fears of a Hard Brexit by outlining plans for a timed transitional period she insisted her negotiating tactics revealed at her Lancaster House speech in January ‘still stand today’.
The PM said she wanted an ‘implementation period’ of ‘around two years’ after Britain left the EU and that during that time existing market access arrangements would apply.
May acknowledged that some voters were worried about the prospect of Brexit but insisted that she was optimistic about a future in which the UK and EU live alongside one another in a deep and special partnership.
‘The British people have decided to leave the EU and to be a global trading nation, able to chart our own way in the world,’ said the Prime Minister.
‘For many, this is an exciting time, full of promise. For others it is a worrying one. I look ahead with optimism, believing that if we use this moment to change not just our relationship with Europe but also the way we do things at home – this will be a defining moment in the history of our nation.’
Ruling out membership of the EEA or a Canada-style trade deal she said: ‘I think we can do so much better.’
The PM insisted that the result of the Brexit referendum would not mean ‘turning our back on Europe’ and the UK wanted the EU to succeed.
‘Our commitment to the defence – and indeed the advance – of our shared values is undimmed,’ she said.
‘Our determination to defend the stability, security and prosperity of our European neighbours and friends remains steadfast.
‘And we will do all this as a sovereign nation in which the British people are in control.’
May said that the UK had never been entirely comfortable within the EU, which involved the pooling of sovereignty and giving up some powers over decision making.
‘Throughout its membership the UK has never totally felt at home being in the EU and perhaps because of our history and geography the EU never felt to us like an integral part of our national story in the way it does to so many elsewhere in Europe,’ she said.
‘It does not mean that we are no longer a proud member of the family of European nations and it does not mean we are turning our back on Europe, or worse that we do not wish the EU to succeed.
‘The success of the EU is profoundly in our national interest and that of the wider world.’
May said that European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s state of the union address had last week sparked ‘vibrant debate’ about the future of the EU.
And she added: ‘We don’t want to stand in the way of that. Indeed we want to be your strongest friend and partner as the EU and the UK thrive side by side.’
May arrived in a Maserati limousine for her speech at the Santa Maria Novella church in central Florence, which was delivered in front of a backdrop reading ‘Shared history. Shared challenges. Shared future.’
Among her audience in the Renaissance basilica were Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexit Secretary David Davis, but no leaders of the 27 remaining EU states.
Her landmark speech came as the latest opinion poll suggested a majority of Britons now back staying in the European Union – with 52% in favour of remaining part of the bloc. A group of British expats mounted a protest against Brexit outside the church.