Possible extension to UK's Brexit transition period talked up by Ireland

Clay Curtis
October 18, 2018

May's allies, the Northern Irish Democratic Union Party (DUP), has threatened to vote against a planned British budget if May agrees to something with the EU that would create more differences and barriers to the existing ones between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The meeting in Brussels was supposed to be the occasion when the leaders of the European Union 27 member states gave the green light for a special summit in November to finalise the terms of Britain's withdrawal.

Ahead of the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk had urged May to offer new "concrete ideas on how to break the impasse".

But the idea is controversial among May's eurosceptic Conservative MPs, who fear it is simply a way of delaying Britain's exit.

He conceded "we are not so far" from a deal but cautioned that "now we must accelerate the work".

Antonio Tajani, the European Parliament President, said: "I listened carefully to what May had to say".

At the start of a summit that had previously been earmarked as the deadline for a breakthrough, both sides admitted the deadlock would take more time to untangle and said they were willing to extend the post-Brexit transition until the end of 2021.

This offer would not in itself resolve the back-stop issue, which must be settled in the Brexit treaty that must be ratified before March to avoid a damaging "no deal" scenario.

Michel Barnier briefed the leaders of other European Union member states ahead of a summit on Wednesday and told them he would be willing to grant Theresa May a one-year extension in return for her agreement to the option of a "two-tier" backstop in Northern Ireland.

The Financial Times reported that EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier is open to a possible one-year extension to the Brexit transition, should Mrs May accept a "two-tier" backstop.

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

EU Council President Donald Tusk has told May that "creative" thinking from Britain is required to avoid a hard border between EU member Ireland and the U.K's Northern Ireland, the issue that has brought divorce talks to a standstill.

An EU official later also confirmed to the Sun newspaper that the possibility of a transition extension was discussed.

Mrs May spoke for around 15 to 20 minutes on Thursday evening, before departing for her own fish supper separate from EU27 leaders; as she joined the UK's ambassador in Brussels.

It emerged on Wednesday that the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was ready to discuss a further year's extension to allow time to find a solution to keep the Irish border open. "I remain confident of a good outcome".

As he arrived for the Brussels meeting, Barnier had said "we need time, we need much more time" for talks, vowing to work "calmly and patiently" for a deal in the coming weeks.

A November summit could be used to focus on preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

Multiple reports suggest Cabinet resignations have been put on hold for at least another day with restless ministers prepared to give Prime Minister May more time to satisfy their demands.

Protesters will begin assembling from midday on Saturday on Park Lane in central London before descending onto Parliament Square where speakers will deliver in support of a People's Vote from 2pm onwards.

Meanwhile, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said an extended transition period would increase uncertainty for business when they were already anxious about what might happen.

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