Attempting to bridge the gridlock in Brexit negotiations and within her party, British
Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a speech in Florence on Friday, Sept. 22, that proposed continuous contributions to the European Union (EU) during an implementation period.
Demonstrators gathered outside the Santa Maria Novella church, protesting against the political consequences that could give momentum to nationalistic, anti-migrant sentiments and far-right policies.
The long-anticipated speech comes months after the contentious Brexit referendum, a vote fracturing Britain between Pro-Brexit advocates––those framing their resistance on the basis of salvaging and restoring the country’s identity––and Brexit opponents, those cautioning against the economic ramifications a withdrawal will bring.
What defines the Brexit controversy is a salient barricade over which nationalistic values to prioritize. The vital question, however, is how much it will cost Britain. In a quid pro quo, Mrs. May proposed a security partnership that highlighted Britain’s role as a defense measure, offering legal safeguards to ensure the rights of EU citizens in Britain.
“Where there is uncertainty around underlying EU law, I want the UK courts to be able to take into account the judgments of the European Court of Justice with a view to ensuring consistent interpretation,” May said.
May sought to refute the notion that Britain will become a house divided against itself.
With a rhetoric echoing a sense of unity, she reiterated that while Britain may be leaving the EU, “[Britain] is not leaving Europe.”
The decision to deliver the speech in Florence was strategic in presenting an image of progress. Florence, fostering the Renaissance and epitomizing the European culture, also has a history as a successful trading nation.
With a resonance of optimism and unity, she framed an inspiring mantra: “We can do so much better than this.”
But many condemned the speech. While it energized the Brexit hard-liners, the ambiguity following her proposals further divided her cabinet and Conservative party — members already unsettled by Britain’s emancipation.
“Brexit is an abyss, an unknown abyss for these people,” said Maria Sofia Falcone, president of the Young European Federalists chapter in Tuscany. “Today, the prime minister showed that her only interest is the single market and not the people.”
European Union negotiators have remained adamant, refusing to discuss post-Brexit ties, stating that progress will only be made once the issues they consider a priority are magnified (i.e. the status of EU citizens after Britain’s departure in 2019, Britain’s economic contribution to the bloc, and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland).
“It was a decision made thanks to the rhetoric, the anger, the fear of immigration,” said Giulio Berrino, an Italian student studying law.
Finding herself in a tug-of war that highlights the struggle against entropy, the British Prime Minister established a de facto partnership that encourages cooperation and that ensures Britain’s
compliance with prior commitments.
“I do not want our partners to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less,” May said.
By proposing a two-year implementation period, she echoed her vision for the UK, EU’s “strongest friend and partner.” This would prolong the status quo and solicit an extra contribution of 20 billion euros, potentially harming Britain’s economy.
Brexit implicitly punctures through the country’s class divides, bringing to light a litany
of issues: the reemerging urgency behind Euroscepticism, immigration, and the cultural nostalgia that resents Britain’s bygone sovereignty.
“In my studies, I came to the understanding that the only way people progress as a
species and as an entire world is with greater cooperation… Isolationism, which was at the very heart of Brexit, will get us nowhere. All that would do is encourage tribalism – it is a
reversion to the past,” said Robert Null, a U.S. student that studied Political Science.
However, there is a growing worry that the other 27 member states will not allow Britain to
cherry pick sections of the EU membership.
Insisting a “partnership of interest” and “partnership of values,” Theresa May called for
unity between Britain and continental Europe, hoping that it would lubricate future discussions.
“There was nothing in her speech that gave anything other than flannel, flimflam
promises,” expressed members of British in Italy, whose last protest were against apartheid in South Africa. “We do not protest to make noise; we want change.”
May hoped to pave a vision for Europe, for a “future within grasp.” But for many –– like
Falcone, Berrino, and Null –– Brexit is a black hole.
In this political game of chess, time is of the essence. The question becomes whether Brexit will trigger a checkmate of division or accomplish what May has envisioned. This will be defining for Europe.