May insists Brexit deal remains achievable

Hugh Fox
October 20, 2018

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said that "we need much time, much more time, and we continue to work in the next weeks".

"We are talking in a matter of months, we are not talking in a matter of years", he said.

France did not rule out a possible lengthening of Britain's post-Brexit transition period if it helps advance negotiations with London, but any extension would come with conditions, an official in President Emmanuel Macron's office said on Thursday.

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron even had time for a post-prandial stroll on an unseasonably warm Brussels evening, before hopping in a vehicle to the Grand Place's Le Roy d'Espagne bar to join the prime ministers of Belgium and Luxembourg for a beer.

Both made clear that they were only prepared to offer Mrs May space, not further concessions - their clear message that a deal remains possible but it's up to the United Kingdom to find a political solution.

Lending their names to the piece was Nick Clegg, whose tenure as Deputy-Prime Minister under Conservative centrist David Cameron has been credited with the implosion of his own Liberal Democrat party, and notorious Tory "wet" [British political slang for a left-wing Conservative] Michael Heseltine - a key player in the downfall of the Thatcher government in 1990.

DUP MEP Diane Dodds has said the proposal to extend the transition period did not resolve the fundamental issue of the backstop.

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"I'm convinced a deal is necessary, I'm still not sure we'll get one", he said.

The official added that Mrs May continues to regard as "unacceptable" the EU backstop proposal for Northern Ireland alone to remain in the European customs area until the implementation of a new trade deal.

A backstop proposed by the EU would see Northern Ireland remain in the EU customs union and single market to avoid border and customs checks.

Britain and the European Union say they are hopeful of progress in the next few weeks, pushing the timeline for a deal into November, or even December, when another European Union summit is scheduled. Now we know our limits: we don't want an agreement which calls into question the integrity of the single market, or the four freedoms, or which does damage to Ireland.

For all her "wittering" at the dispatch box about backstops, she "can get nothing worth having through parliament or the EU".

"And now the issue of Ireland remains open", Barnier added.

European Union leaders were converging on Brussels Wednesday for what had been billed as a "moment of truth" Brexit summit but which now holds little promise for a breakthrough.

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British opponents of Brexit say the United Kingdom won't be able to strike a trade deal with the US unless it weakens its current EU-level protections on workers rights, animal welfare and environmental protection.

But time is running out: taking into account British legislative constraints, an agreement has to be reached by late November in order to be concluded and signed on 29 March 2019, the official Brexit date.

May "urged businesses not to lose sight of the prize - that of a smooth trading relationship with the European Union alongside the ability to seek new opportunities and open up new markets with trading partners around the world", her office said.

That could trigger a leadership contest, a so-called no deal Brexit and even a new election. The British leader urged her counterparts to redouble efforts to find the way to a deal, but European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said she did offer them concrete new proposals.

And negotiating some kind of alternative arrangement with Northern Ireland could cause cracks to form in the U.K.'s constitutional unity with Scotland, writes the Financial Times. Trade negotiations are complex: the more sectors they cover, the greater the number of stakeholders.

Both sides think an extension would allow for more time to find a solution to the Irish border.

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