Theresa May ditches threat to pull security co-operation with EU after Brexit
Theresa May has insisted that Britain will continue to work with the EU on security after Brexit - just six months after threatening to withdraw co-operation.
In a major climbdown, the Prime Minister said the UK was "unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security".
That was a significant shift from her letter triggering Article 50 in March, when she said "our co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened" if no Brexit deal could be struck.
Mrs May made the U-turn in her eagerly-anticipated speech in Florence setting out her latest thinking on Britain's future outside the EU.
She said she wanted both sides to agree a "bold new security partnership" to provide safety for citizens and help promote European values around the world.
"The United Kingdom has outstanding capabilities," she said. "We have the biggest defence budget in Europe, and one of the largest development budgets in the world. We have a far-reaching diplomatic network, and world-class security, intelligence and law enforcement services.
"So what we are offering will be unprecedented in its breadth, taking in co-operation on diplomacy, defence and security, and development. And it will be unprecedented in its depth, in terms of the degree of engagement that we would aim to deliver. It is our ambition to work as closely as possible together with the EU, protecting our people, promoting our values and ensuring the future security of our continent.
"The United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security. And the UK will continue to offer aid and assistance to EU member states that are the victims of armed aggression, terrorism and natural or manmade disasters."
Challenged on whether she had given up part of the UK's leverage in the Bexit negotiations, the Prime Minister said: "We do face significant challenges, particularly in relation to the security issues, but we have seen over time - and I have seen this particularly when I was Home Secretary - how that co-operation with our European partners is good for us and good for them.
"So I think what members of the public would say to us is we want you as the Government to ensure we can continue a partnership that is helping in terms of keeping us safe in the UK but also across the rest of Europe. I think that's people want us to do and that's what we will be doing."
Elsewhere in her speech, Mrs May confirmed that she hopes to agree a two-year post-Brexit implementation period, during which the UK would continue paying into the EU coffers and trading inside the single market.
However, she said that reports that the payments could be as high as £20bn were "exaggerated and unhelpful", and that the final bill will be determined by the negotiations.
Freedom of movement will also continue during the transition phase, Mrs May said, although new arrivals to Britain from the EU would need to be registered in preparation for a new immigration system once the implementation period ends.
The Prime Minister also ruled out British membership of the European Economic Area after Brexit, and again stressed that the European Court of Justice should have no oversight role once the UK leaves the bloc.
But she added: "As we meet here today, in this city of creativity and rebirth, let us open our minds to the possible. To a new era of cooperation and partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union. And to a stronger, fairer, more prosperous future for us all."