Britain, EU give themselves more time to reach Brexit deal

Saul Bowman
October 20, 2018

It emerged on Wednesday that European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is ready to discuss a further year's extension to allow time to find a solution to keep the Irish border open.

Earlier, Ireland's deputy prime minister Simon Coveney confirmed the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier was prepared to extend the 21-month transition period after Britain leaves the bloc to allow time to negotiate an alternative arrangement.

The big hope appears to be that an extension to the implementation period, now due to conclude in December 2020, might provide space for the EU to consider a UK-wide form of Irish border backstop that wouldn't require Northern Ireland to be carved off into its customs union and single market.

An further year could help the United Kingdom and the EU negotiate a future trade deal, and could ease the burden for May on agreeing to a so-called backstop on the Irish border issue that would keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and the single market for goods.

May said a proposed 21-month transition period for the United Kingdom after Brexit could be extended by "a matter of months".

If progress had been made at the European Council meeting of leaders, an extra summit was expected to be held in November to sign off the deal.

"But I am still optimistic that we can find a solution for the Brexit issue in the coming weeks or months".

The Prime Minister added: "We are not standing here proposing an extension to the implementation period".

Accepting that would mean extending the period during which Britain would be "bound by European Union laws" while having no representation until December 2021.

But Mrs May has not come forward with the new "concrete proposals" demanded by European Council president Donald Tusk, instead telling fellow leaders that "courage, trust and leadership" are needed on both sides to find a solution.

He specified that the Brexit agreement was ready by 90 percent.

Mrs May relies on her DUP allies' 10 MPs to prop up her minority government in key votes and there have been suggestions the Northern Irish party could vote against the Budget.

No EU leader reacted to May's speech, as has been the tradition with the Brexit discussions at EU level.

"And the European Parliament would not or should not approve a deal that undermines the single market and doesn't give Ireland what we need in relation to the backstop".

She said 2 1/2 years after Britain's Brexit referendum, the country had still not explained clearly how it wants to leave the EU.

"As long as we don't have a solution we won't be able to explain exactly how it can succeed", she said Thursday.

Britain leaves the European Union on March 29, but a deal must be sealed soon so parliaments have time to give their verdict.

The letter signed by former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis and other pro-Brexit Conservatives warned May not to "engage in a show of resistance and a choreographed argument followed by surrender" to the EU.

The senior source said the leaders agreed talks should continue but, for now, they are "not planning to organise an extraordinary summit on Brexit in November".

Mrs May, who had been called upon to table new proposals on the Irish Border backstop, was thought to have been "developing her thinking".

But, after Britain's refusal to accept an indefinite legal "backstop" to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, doubts are mounting. The second element would include provisions for a UK-wide customs union. "If they knew the negotiations were being pushed right up against the next election, why would they be conciliatory in these negotiations?"

With divorce talks stuck, the bloc has suggested extending that period, to give more time to strike a trade deal that ensures a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

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