Theresa May to signal UK desire to maintain close ties with EU

British government forced into retreat after DUP threatens to support two Labour motions

British prime minister Theresa May speaking during prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP/PRU

British prime minister Theresa May speaking during prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Photograph: AFP/PRU

 

British prime minister Theresa May will travel to Florence next week for her first major speech on Brexit since she unveiled her government’s negotiating priorities at Lancaster House in London last January. The speech on September 22nd comes just three days ahead of the next round of negotiations between Britain and the EU and is keenly anticipated in London and Brussels as an attempt to break the deadlock.

Downing Street said the decision to deliver the speech in Florence was meant to signal Britain’s wish to retain close ties with the EU after Brexit. The fourth round of formal talks between Britain and the EU were due to begin next week but were postponed for a week to “give negotiators flexibility to make further progress”.

The EU has ruled out starting negotiations on a future trade deal with Britain until sufficient progress has been made on the divorce bill, the rights of EU and British citizens and issues affecting Ireland. EU officials have indicated that they are unlikely to conclude next month that sufficient progress has been made to move on to the next stage of talks.

The government was forced into a parliamentary retreat on Wednesday after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) threatened to support two Labour motions. Facing the prospect of defeat in the House of Commons, Conservative MPs abstained on the motions, which called for a pay rise for National Health Service NHS staff and for no increase in university fees.

Accused of lying

The opposition motions were non-binding and were outside the scope of the Conservatives’ confidence-and-supply deal with the DUP. But the parliamentary retreat highlighted the fragile nature of the majority the DUP has given Ms May and the fact that the DUP can vote against the Conservatives on some policies without bringing the government down.

Government whips have told Conservative MPs to ignore all non-binding, opposition motions from now on, either by abstaining or not turning up at all.

Earlier, the police federation accused the prime minister of lying when she claimed that police officers had enjoyed a pay increase of almost a third since 2010. Ms May was responding to a question from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who criticised a pay increase for police officers announced this week because it was smaller than the rate of inflation.

Ms May said that, taking account of pay rises, increments, and income tax changes, someone who was a new police officer in 2010 will have seen their post-tax pay increase by £9,000, a real-terms rise of 32 per cent. The police federation’s vice-chair Calum Macleod said the government’s claim was a downright lie.

“It shows they have lost touch with reality, if they ever had it, and are clueless as to the demands and dangers officers have to face on a daily basis to keep communities safe. Officers are struggling to keep their heads above water and all we are asking for is fair recognition,” he said.