Theresa May's Brexit speech given cautious welcome

  • Video report by ITV News political correspondent Paul Brand

Theresa May's landmark speech setting out her plans for Brexit was given a cautious welcome by some of the key players.

The Prime Minister said she wants to UK to have a two-year transitional period and said it will honour its financial commitments up to 2020 as she laid out some of the key tenets of the Government's position.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier praised the "constructive spirit" of Mrs May's speech but warned that there was hard work ahead to hack out a final deal.

"The speech shows a willingness to move forward, as time is of the essence," Mr Barnier said in a statement.

However critics have said that there are still too many holes in the details of the UK's position, a full 15 months after the vote to leave the EU.

Mrs May received warm praise from many of her senior ministers, including Boris Johnson.

The Foreign Secretary was caught up in a row after he published his own Brexit blueprint days before the Prime Minister's speech in Florence.

He hailed the proposals as offering "strong Britain working hand in hand with a strong Europe - but once again free to take our own decisions".

Fellow Leave campaigner Michael Gove also welcomed the deal - as did Chancellor Philip Hammond, who had been pushing for a transition to soften the impact of Brexit.

The Irish leader Leo Varadkar has also given a "cautious welcome" to the speech. He is among the key players as leaving the EU could hit Irish trade to lead to hard borders on the Irish mainland.

Protesters outside Mrs May's speech venue in Florence. Credit: PA

However, critics said Mrs May's speech was "empty" and suggested the Government was still floundering to agree on a plan for Brexit.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Mrs May and her Conservative Cabinet colleagues of spending more time "negotiating with each other" than with the EU.

"Fifteen months after the EU referendum the Government is still no clearer about what our long-term relationship with the EU will look like," he said."The only advance seems to be that the Prime Minister has listened to Labour and faced up to the reality that Britain needs a transition on the same basic terms to provide stability for businesses and workers."

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage criticised Mrs May's vision for a softer Brexit than some had fought for, claiming Britain will leave the EU in "name only".

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said Mrs May was admitting the UK will have to pay a "hefty Brexit bill" which amounts to several billions of pounds.

He said: "Both the Conservatives and Labour have now essentially converged on the same position, which is to kick the can down the road and simply delay the economic pain caused by an extreme Brexit."

Sir Vince Cable called for Britons to be given a chance to cancel Brexit. Credit: PA

Among EU politicians there were also mixed responses.

In the first response by a European leader to the speech, French President Emmanuel Macron said that while he welcomed Mrs May's "willingness" to move forward, more progress was needed on the rights of EU citizens in Britain and the border with Ireland as well as the so-called "divorce settlement" in order to move forward.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said the UK's position is "becoming more realistic".

However he warned that the UK cannot "cherry pick" EU rights and responsibilities during a transition period and added much more work is needed on a final agreement.

Manfred Weber, leader of the centre-right European People's Party in the European Parliament and a key ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said the UK position was still unclear.

"I am even more concerned now," he said. "The clock is ticking and time is running faster than the government believes in London."