Taxpayers funding Theresa May’s trip to Florence, Downing Street says
22 September 2017
Theresa May's trip to Florence for her crunch speech on Brexit will be funded by British taxpayers, Downing Street has confirmed.
In what has been seen as an unusual move, the Prime Minister decided to travel to Italy to address European leaders directly in an attempt break the deadlock in negotiations.
Her spokesman has said Florence was chosen for its "historical trading power" and cultural and economic ties with the UK, although the defaulting on war loans by English King Edward III is said to have led to the downfall of two powerhouse Florentine banks in the 14th century.
British taxpayers will pick up the bill for the trip as it is "Government business", including travel for the British delegation which includes Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Brexit Secretary David Davis, and the venue in the grand Santa Maria Novella church.
The Gothic basilica will be seen by Mrs May as a fitting venue to attempt to heal divides which appear to have deepened since the beginning of tough negotiations in summer.
The square around the church is a picture of European unity, with tourists and Italians rubbing shoulders over gelato, Peroni and pasta.
In 1439 it was the scene of the Council of Florence, gathered to bring about the reunion of the Greek and Latin churches.
It will be in that spirit that Mrs May seeks to make the first steps towards a “deep and special partnership” with the European Union despite the schism of Brexit.
Committed Brexiteers like Mr Johnson, who often see themselves as mavericks, may take something from another flashpoint in the church’s history.
It was the venue for one of the first attacks against Galileo, who along with other mathematicians was accused of heresy by Tommaso Caccini in December 1614 for claiming the earth moves around the sun.
The Renaissance man was, of course, proved right in the end and Leave supporters will hope the prophecies of doom from so-called “Remoaners” similarly fall away once the UK leaves the EU.
The church is also home to a number of notable artworks by Renaissance artists including Botticelli, Masaccio and Giotto.
The Italian city is the birthplace of that period, widely seen as the cultural catalyst for the beginning of modern European history.
Mrs May will hope that Brexit is another chapter which is as successful.