Brexit - edging closer to a deal or a cliff-edge

Daniel Fowler
October 18, 2018

Following a key session with 27 fellow European leaders in Brussels, the Prime Minister refused to rule out the extension - which will be incredibly unpopular with Brexiteers.

Any further extension is likely to be fiercely opposed by Eurosceptics, who warn the United Kingdom would become a "vassal state" of Brussels, bound by its rules but unable to influence them. I fully support David Davis as an interim leader.

She told reporters in Brussels that negotiations were "always going to get tougher as we got to the closing stages".

In her post-summit press conference Theresa May said the idea of having the option to extend the transition period could be "a further solution" to the search for a "backstop" to ensure no hard border.

Tajani said he raised with May the possibility that the post-Brexit transition period, during which Britain would retain European Union rules and so avoid border problems with Ireland, could be extended by a year to 2021.

There were doubts about the value of calling any special summit in November to finalise the EU-UK divorce terms as many leaders sought to calm things and maximise use of the final weeks.

"Today we do not know what they want", she said.

Lidington said any extension was likely to last for a few months.

The British fishing industry has hit back at calls to extend the Brexit transition period and warned it will see the "fishing industry eradicated" in Britain.

"May is testing the water by saying that she is open to an extension, but her proposal for one only as a fallback option and only for a few months, reflects her concerns about the political backlash", she said.

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Speaking to the BBC on Thursday, the prime minister said she hoped that no extension would be needed but acknowledged that it may be necessary to lengthen the transition period by a "matter of months".

Upon her arrival at the European Union summit, May told reporters, "We have solved most of the issues in the withdrawal agreement".

She is hemmed in by pro-Brexit members of her Conservative Party, who oppose any more compromises with the bloc, and by her parliamentary allies in Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, who insist a solution to the border issue can't include customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Britain continues to be split by Brexit more than two years since the referendum - which was settled in favour of Leave by 52% to 48%. Officials have said a deal could be struck as late as the European Council's December summit, with both sides determined to avoid no deal. According to three government officials, at least some of them were left puzzled by her presentation.

Talks on finalising the UK's withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on future trade relations with the EU have been blocked by failure to agree on a backstop to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the event that an agreement on future EU-UK relations can not be struck.

"The Prime Minister must avoid an economic catastrophe".

Mr Tajani also mentioned how Mrs May had shown a willingness to look into the possibility of extending the transition period following Brexit.

"The longer she leaves it, the easier it is for her to ram it through Parliament and say, 'it's my deal or no deal and you all know no deal will be catastrophic, '" said Catherine Barnard, professor of European Union law at Cambridge University.

However, the lack of progress on the backstop for Northern Ireland has put those processes on hold.

The Brexit Secretary told the Commons Procedure Committee in a letter: "Once the deal is presented to Parliament, the procedure through which it is voted upon must allow for an unequivocal decision and one which is clear to the British public".

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