May, who was speaking in the Italian city of Florence on Friday, said her country’s divorce from the EU does not mean that the country wishes to be a partner, and not a member state of the EU.
She stressed that the UK would leave the European Single Market, but noted that London still wants economic relations with the bloc and it will not turn its back on Europe.
“Clearly people, businesses and public services should only have to plan for one set of changes in the relationship between the UK and the EU,” May told an audience of Italian business leaders and diplomats.
May said that the British people never felt comfortable as a member of the EU, emphasizing that Britons want to make their own laws independently.
“Instead, let us be creative as well as practical in designing an ambitious economic partnership which respects the freedoms and principles of the EU, and the wishes of the British people,” May added.
EU officials have been complaining that the British side has been weaseling out of its obligations and failing to address the three key points raised in previous Brexit talks: EU citizen rights, Northern Ireland’s border and a divorce bill.
May proposed a transition period of “around two years” after Britain leaves the EU so the two sides can work out the details in the final Brexit deal.
“People and businesses – both in the UK and in the EU – would benefit from a period to adjust to the new arrangements in a smooth and orderly way,” she said.
“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.”
May’s speech comes after the EU demanded more clarity from Britain on key issues regarding Brexit, including the rights of EU citizens and London’s financial commitments.
“We want you to stay; we value you,” May said, promising legal protection for EU citizens living in the UK.
The EU has demanded tens of billions of Euros from Britain as part of its “Brexit bill” before Brussels launches talks on a free trade agreement with London.
In her speech, the UK premier reassured other EU members that they need not worry “that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave.”
EU praises May’s “constructive spirit” of speech
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator praised the speech of May for a “constructive spirit” in talks with the EU, but said the union needed more clarity on what some of her statements meant.
“May expressed a constructive spirit which is also the spirit of the European Union during this unique negotiation,” Michel Barnier said in a statement. He, however, said it “must be translated into negotiating positions” to make real progress.
“The sooner we reach an agreement on the principles of the orderly withdrawal in the different areas – and on the conditions of a possible transition period requested by the United Kingdom – the sooner we will be ready to engage in a constructive discussion on our future relationship,” he said.
Irish PM cautiously welcomes May’s speech
Meanwhile, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar gave a “cautious welcome” to May’ speech.
“I’d give the speech a cautious welcome. I think it is a genuine effort by the prime minister to move things along and make progress,” Varadkar told journalists.
“We will of course need further clarity and further understanding as to how a transition period might work. But requesting a transition period is also a step in the right direction,” he said.
On September 11, MPs passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by 326 votes to 290, giving the Conservative government a majority of 36 and paving the way for greater powers to be handed to government ministers.
Nearly 52 percent of Britons opted to leave the bloc during the EU referendum in June last year. The United Kingdom formally triggered the Brexit process on March 29 and divorce negotiations officially began on June 19.