May: Brexit transition period could be extended for ‘a few months’

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The DUP accused Theresa May of ‘mad panic’ today amid claims she could keep Britain lashed to Brussels for longer to ease the Irish border standoff.

On the second day of a fraught EU summit this morning, the PM admitted she is looking at options for any ‘gap’ between the end of the current mooted transition period in 2020 and a trade arrangements coming into effect.

But she insisted she did not ‘expect’ that there would be a gap and suggested it would last ‘a matter of months’ rather than the year suggested by the EU.  

The apparent concession has left Mrs May facing a furious backlash from Tory MPs with calls for her to quit.

The idea means staying subject to EU rules for longer without any say in writing them – and paying potentially another £15billion into the bloc’s coffers.

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson told MailOnline the blueprint suggested the government was in a ‘mad panic’ and would do nothing to help solve the Irish border ‘backstop’ issue.

Tory Eurosceptic Nadine Dorries called for Mrs May to be kicked out and replaced as leader by David Davis, while usually loyal MP Nick Boles said she was ‘losing the confidence’ of the party.

As pressure mounted on the PM, Mr Davis penned a joint letter with Boris Johnson warning that the ‘moment of truth’ on Brexit is approaching. 

‘Brexit offers the prize of a better future, global free trade deals and political independence,’ the letter to Mrs May said. 

‘But if these potential gains are sacrificed because of EU bullying and the Government’s desperation to secure a deal, the British people will not forgive us.’

Arriving for the second day of a fraught EU summit this morning, the PM admitted she is looking at options for any ‘gap’ between the end of the current mooted transition period in 2020 and a trade arrangements coming into effect

Mrs May insisted she did not ‘expect’ that there would be a gap and suggested it would last ‘a matter of months’ rather than the year suggested by the EU

The premier is facing a furious backlash from Brexiteers and the DUP after the idea was floated in talks last night

The premier is facing a furious backlash from Brexiteers and the DUP after the idea was floated in talks last night

The comments came after Mrs May’s efforts to break the deadlock with a speech to counterparts last night fell flat.

Following the 15-minute address, leaders said the premier had offered ‘nothing new’ despite being urged to come forward with ‘concrete proposals’.

In a sign of the rising tensions with the clocks ticking down to exit day, Michel Barnier warned that the two sides need ‘much more time’ to reach a divorce agreement.

A draft law published by France just hours before the gathering kicked off made clear Britons will need visas to visit the country if there is no agreement – and ex-pats will be classed as ‘illegals’.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned life will be ‘different’ for the UK outside the EU as she said her government is ‘seriously’ preparing for talks to fail.

Other EU leaders complained that the UK ‘does not know what it wants’. 

Speaking to reporters at the summit this morning, Mrs May said that the option of extending the transition had been floated as a way to bridge any gap between the end of 2020 and new trade arrangements.

The premier chatted to Spainish counterpart Pedro Sanchez (pictured left) as the summit continued today

The premier chatted to Spainish counterpart Pedro Sanchez (pictured left) as the summit continued today

Jean-Claude Juncker (left) was deep in conversation with Finland Prime Minister Juha Sipila (centre) and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven (right)

Jean-Claude Juncker (left) was deep in conversation with Finland Prime Minister Juha Sipila (centre) and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven (right)

The leaders gathered at the EU council's headquarters today for the second day of the summit

The leaders gathered at the EU council’s headquarters today for the second day of the summit

Mrs Merkel did not seem the worse for wear as she arrived at the summit for the second day today, kissing EU council chief Donald Tusk

After the summit meeting last night (clockwise around the table from back right) French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Belgian PM Charles Michel and Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel went out for drinks at a bar in Brussels

Mrs Merkel did not seem the worse for wear as she arrived at the summit for the second day today, kissing EU council chief Donald Tusk. After the summit meeting last night (clockwise around the table from back right) French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Belgian PM Charles Michel and Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel went out for drinks at a bar in Brussels

The suggestion the transition period could be extended sparked renewed calls for Mrs May to be replaced as Tory leader

The suggestion the transition period could be extended sparked renewed calls for Mrs May to be replaced as Tory leader

The PM insisted said that the UK had already put forward a proposal to avoid the need for either a hard border or a customs border down the Irish Sea.

And she added: ‘A further idea that has emerged – and it is an idea at this stage – is to create an option to extend the implementation period for a matter of months – and it would only be for a matter of months. 

‘But the point is that this is not expected to be used, because we are working to ensure that we have that future relationship in place by the end of December 2020. 

Why has the Brexit transition extension been floated?

The EU has floated making the transition period longer to try to sweeten the pill of an Irish border backstop.

The talks have hit a huge roadblock over the bloc’s demands for Northern Ireland to stay within its customs jurisdiction after Brexit.

Mrs May says she could never accept such a plan, but Brussels has rejected her counter-proposals which would involve the whole UK staying in a customs union for a ‘temporary’ period.

In a bid to make its blueprint more palatable, the bloc is offering to extend a mooted transition period by a year to the end of 2021. 

Currently Britain is due to quit EU rules on December 31, 2020 – almost two years after Brexit day itself on March 29, 2019.

The EU hopes to persuade Britain a long transition means the backstop will never kick in because a wider trade arrangement will have been sealed.

Mrs May has pointedly refused to rule out the prospect – although she insists it should only last for a ‘matter of months’.   

However, the idea does not seem to address the UK’s fundamental objection that the backstop could kick in at some point – and the EU’s version would effectively split the UK.

Mr Varadkar said last night that an extension ‘couldn’t be a substitute for the backstop’.

‘I’m clear that it is possible to do that and that is what we are working for, and in those circumstances there would be no need for any proposal of this sort and I’m clear that I expect the implementation period to end at the end of December 2020.’ 

Mrs May added: ‘We are working with the European Union to deal with this issue of ensuring that if there is a gap between the end of the implementation period and the point at which the future relationship comes in – we don’t expect a gap to exist, but if there is we want to ensure there’s no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

‘We have put forward a proposal as to how to deal with this. A further idea has now emerged. 

‘We of course are working to ensure not just that we are able to ensure no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, were such a gap in time to emerge, but to ensure that the implementation period comes to an end in December 2020, because we are able to put the future relationship into place at the end of the implementation period and ensure no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.’  

Mrs May was given about 15 minutes to make her pitch to counterparts in Brussels last night.

But she then had to leave while the other leaders feasted on a dinner of pan fried mushrooms and fillet of turbot cooked in wheat beer.

She stayed at the British ambassador’s residence in the Belgian capital overnight, where she ate a fish supper, but will only be allowed to attend some of the proceedings on the second day of the summit.

In her address, Mrs May stressed that significant progress had been made in many areas of the negotiations and urged them to find a ‘creative’ way out of the current dilemma. 

‘We have shown we can do difficult deals together constructively,’ the PM said. 

‘I remain confident of a good outcome.’ And she told them: ‘The last stage will need courage, trust and leadership on both sides.’ 

But European Parliament president Antonio Tajani said after the speech that despite demands for ‘concrete proposals’ she had not put forward ‘anything substantially new in terms of content’. 

Mr Tajani told reporters: ‘I listened carefully to what May had to say… but I did not perceive anything substantially new in terms of content.’

He jibed that ‘there is a readiness to reach agreement but there is no change in content’.  

An EU source said the 27 leaders had decided not to call a special Brexit summit in November as ‘not enough progress has been achieved’. 

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani (pictured in Brussels today) said after Mrs May's speech that despite demands for 'concrete proposals' she had not put forward 'anything substantially new'

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani (pictured in Brussels today) said after Mrs May’s speech that despite demands for ‘concrete proposals’ she had not put forward ‘anything substantially new’

The body language between Mrs May and Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured right) has been closely watched during the gathering 

The body language between Mrs May and Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured right) has been closely watched during the gathering 

Emmanuel Macron (pictured left with Mr Juncker today) has said he is still hopeful of a deal - but the French government yesterday published a draft law making clear Britons will need visas to visit the country if there is no agreement

Emmanuel Macron (pictured left with Mr Juncker today) has said he is still hopeful of a deal – but the French government yesterday published a draft law making clear Britons will need visas to visit the country if there is no agreement

The leaders also reaffirmed their ‘full confidence’ in Mr Barnier and refused to change his guidelines.

The original hope was that a deal might have been ready to sign off at this summit – but the chances of any real advances at the gathering in Brussels are now close to zero.

The main impasse is over EU demands for Northern Ireland to stay within its customs jurisdiction after Brexit. 

Mrs May says she could never accept such a plan, but Brussels has rejected the UK’s counterproposals.

What are the Brexit sticking points between UK and EU?

The concept of a ‘backstop’, to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic whatever the future trade relationship, was agreed by both sides in December last year.

But they have dramatically different idea on how the mechanism would work – which have given rise to two distinct sticking points. 

Border in the Irish Sea 

Brussels says the only way of avoiding a hard border is for Northern Ireland to stay under its customs jurisdiction.

Under the model, the province would also follow single market rules to avoic the need for checks.

But Mrs May says that would be unacceptable as it would split up the UK.

Ministers are unanimous in opposing anything that splits the UK.

Critically, the premier’s DUP allies – who prop her up in power – are adamant they will not allow it to happen. 

Credible exit plan from EU customs rules 

The PM is trying to break the deadlock by proposing a new ‘backstop’ arrangement for the Irish border.

The blueprint could mean the whole UK staying in the EU customs union ‘temporarily’ and accepting regulatory checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.

Brussels seems implacably opposed to having a hard ‘end date’ written into the deal.

As a result, the government is mooting a ‘break clause’ that would ensure the customs arrangement will end – without explictly stating when. 

Some Cabinet ministers and Tory MPs fear that in reality this could keep the UK subject to Brussels rules indefinitely.

But they are thought to be holding off all-out mutiny until they see the final shape of the proposal. 

In a bid to make its blueprint more palatable, the bloc is offering to extend a mooted transition period by a year to the end of 2021. Currently Britain is due to quit EU rules on December 31, 2020 – almost two years after Brexit day itself on March 29, 2019.

The EU hopes to persuade Britain a long transition means the backstop will never kick in because a wider trade arrangement will have been sealed.

However, the idea does not seem to address the UK’s fundamental objection that the backstop could kick in – and the EU’s version would effectively split the UK.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday that an extension ‘couldn’t be a substitute for the backstop’.

The costs of the transition are also likely to be considerably higher than the UK’s current net membership contribution of around £10billion. 

The bloc’s budget commissioner Gunther Oettinger said last week that he wants national rebates – worth around £5billion a year to the UK at present – to be scrapped after the end of 2020. 

DUP MEP Diane Dodds said the tweak to the transition offered ‘no reassurance’ that the UK would not be split.

‘All very well, but this doesn’t do anything to actually change the backstop, as it would be in the legal text of the withdrawal agreement,’ she said. 

‘Therefore it does not address any concerns, it offers no reassurance.’

Tory MP Nick Boles, who has been urging a close Norway-style relationship with the EU, said the idea was ‘madness’.

‘I’m afraid she is losing the confidence now of colleagues of all shades of opinion, people who have been supportive of her throughout this process,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. 

‘They are close to despair at the state of this negotiation because there is a fear that both the government and the EU are trying to run out the clock, that they are trying to leave this so late that they can then credibly say that there’s no alternative but a no deal Brexit. And most people agree that would be chaos. Now that is not an acceptable way for a leader of a government to behave.’

Ms Dorries said: ‘If Theresa May is asking for a longer transition period, she is stalling. It’s time to stand aside and let someone who can negotiate get on with it and deliver. I fully support DD as an interim leader.’ 

Ukip MEP Patrick O’Flynn said: ‘Here we go. The woman who can’t take decisions wants to leave her country in limbo for longer.’

Labour Brexiteer Kate Hoey said: ‘If a backstop is such a good idea to sort the border issue why do we not go for a backstop around the entire British Isles then Irish Republic can be part of it too.’ 

Mr Johnson and Mr Davis signed a letter demanding a change of approach from the PM along with former ministers Priti Patel, Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, and leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.

‘Talk of either a UK or a Northern Irish backstop is inimical to our status as a sovereign nation state,’ they wrote. 

‘Both are unnecessary: indeed they are a trap being set by the EU which it is vital we do not fall into.

Mr Macron (pictured today) has struck a notably softer term at this summit after leading a savage attack on the PM's Chequers plan at Salzburg  

Mr Macron (pictured today) has struck a notably softer term at this summit after leading a savage attack on the PM’s Chequers plan at Salzburg  

Irish PM Leo Varadkar

EU council president Donald Tusk

Irish PM Leo Varadkar (left) warned the leaders they could not risk a return to the Troubles. EU council president Donald Tusk (right) has been taking a hard line over the talks  

‘Using existing techniques and processes, with political co-operation, we can ensure that trade continues between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

‘The necessary procedures can all be implemented within the existing legal and operational frameworks of the EU and the UK.

‘Rational and pragmatic approaches can ensure that trade across the border is maintained. There need be no threat to the Good Friday/Belfast agreement.’

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington today played down the prospect of Britain facing a multi-billion pound bill.

‘That would be one of the things that would be teased out in the negotiations,’ he said.

‘There may be other approaches we can take.’

He added: ‘The key point is that neither side wants to us to be in the position where the insurance policy is needed. 

‘There isn’t a detailed proposal, this is an idea that has come up. One would need to flesh it out in the next few weeks.’ 

During the private summit meeting last night, Mr Varadkar showed EU leaders a copy of an Irish newspaper which featured the story of an IRA bombing of a border customs post.

The Taoiseach brought a copy of Monday’s Irish Times edition to the summit dinner to emphasise how far Northern Ireland and Ireland had come. 

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar said that he held up a hard copy of the newspaper to show ‘how far we have come in 30 years, from violence to peace’. 

Boris Johnson

David Davis

Boris Johnson, left in the Commons this week, and David Davis, pictured right, have ramped up the pressure on Mrs May by demanding she ditches the idea of an Irish border backstop

The DUP dismissed the idea that a transition extension to smooth over the Irish border issue, pointing out that it would not stop the backstop having legal effect

The DUP dismissed the idea that a transition extension to smooth over the Irish border issue, pointing out that it would not stop the backstop having legal effect

As EU leaders stepped up their criticism of the UK yesterday, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė told reporters she wanted the UK ‘to decide finally what they want’. 

‘We very much want for Prime Minister May to come with a strong mandate, which we have not seen yet in the UK,’ she said.

‘We need very concrete understanding of what the UK really wants. To stay one leg in the continent and one leg in the UK is really not possible. 

‘Today we do not know what they want. They do not know themselves what they want. It is a problem.’ 

Slovakian premier Peter Pellegrini said: ‘I think we will receive information that there is no deal and I think we should do the maximum to the last day to try to have an agreement. 

‘But the 27 should be prepared also for a no-deal result and I think maybe we will finish like that. 

‘My hope was that today we would have already some concrete solution on the table but it looks like there will not be a deal today.’ 

French President Emmanuel Macron said he came to Brussels with a message of both ‘confidence and urgency’. 

‘Confidence because progress has been made and we see a collective will to move forwards, but we are not there yet and now it is time to decide,’ he said. 

‘I believe there is urgency to reach a withdrawal agreement, which is indispensible, and to look forward to our future relationship.’ 

Mr Macron said: ‘Lots of things have been done, but we must now accelerate the work. I have trust in Michel Barnier and his team who have done remarkable work.’ 

Mrs Merkel said she was determined to ‘do everything’ to get a deal. 

Mr Barnier warned that ‘much more time’ was needed to try to strike an agreement. 

‘Brexit must be orderly, for everyone and for all the issues, including on the island of Island,’ he said.

‘So we need time, we need much time, much more time, and we will continue to work in the next weeks calmly and patiently, calmly and patiently.’ 

Ministers push for yes-or-no vote on any final Brexit divorce deal 

MPs have voiced anger after the government argued the Brexit divorce deal must be either accepted or rejected by MPs.

Remainers and Brexiteers have been plotting to try and sway the process their way by changing the final agreement.

But ministers have now suggested amendments to the final package will not be possible.

In a memo to a Commons committee, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said: ‘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.’

The government blueprint suggests the motion will be amendable.

But the amendments might only be taken if the main motion itself passes – reducing the scope of MPs to make meaningful changes.

The draft no-deal law published by the French government yesterday warns checks on goods at the borders could cause huge disruption.

The document says: ‘In the event of withdrawal from the United Kingdom without agreement, British nationals who enjoy the right of free movement and free establishment throughout the European Union, as well as members of their family, will become nationals of third parties and will therefore in principle be subject to common law, that is to say to the requirement to present a visa to enter the French territory and to justify a residence permit to stay there.

‘In case of withdrawal from the United Kingdom of the European Union without agreement, British nationals currently residing in France and their family members would be staying illegally.’

Meanwhile, Mrs Merkel delivered a speech at the German parliament stating for the first time that her government was preparing for no-deal.

‘The chances of reaching in time a good and viable exit agreement is still there,’ she said.

‘At the same time, it is only fitting as a responsible and forward-thinking government leadership that we prepare for every scenario, that includes the possibility of Great Britain leaving the European Union without an agreement. We have begun in the government to prepare ourselves appropriately for this.’

But Mrs Merkel gave little indication that the EU was willing to give ground.

‘In the negotiations with Great Britain on these and other issues it must always be clear, that, even if we want to avoid hardships at the end, there always needs to, and will be, a difference between having membership of the European Union and a partnership with the European Union as a third party,’ she said.   

How does Theresa May’s Chequers deal compare with a Canada-style free trade deal?

CHEQUERS

Trade:

Britain would stick to EU rules on goods by adopting a ‘Common rulebook’ with Brussels, but not in the services sector.

Theresa May says this would allow the UK to strike free trade deals globally, but the scope would be limited by commitments to the EU.

The blueprint should minimise the need for extra checks at the borders – protecting the ‘just in time’ systems used by the car industry to import and export parts.

The UK Parliament could choose to diverge from these EU rules over time.

But there is an admission that this would ‘have consequences’.

Customs:

Britain would set up something called a ‘facilitated customs arrangement’.

This would see the UK effectively act as the EU’s taxman – using British officials to collect customs which would then be paid on to the bloc. 

The borders between the UK and EU will be treated as a ‘combined customs territory’.

The UK would apply domestic tariffs and trade policies for goods intended for the UK, but charge EU tariffs and their equivalents for goods which will end up heading into the EU.

Northern Ireland: 

Mrs May says her plan will prevent a hard Irish border, and mean no divergence between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.

There would be no need for extra border checks, as tariffs on goods would be the same.

Single market origin rules and regulations would also be sufficiently aligned to avoid infrastructure.

 CANADA-STYLE

Trade: 

Britain would strike a Canada-style trade deal with the EU, meaning goods flow both ways without tariffs.

As it is a simple free trade deal, Britain would not be bound by most of the rules and red tape drawn up in Brussels.

The arrangement would be a relatively clean break from the EU – but would fall far short of full access to the single market.

Eurosceptics have suggested ‘Canada plus’ in key areas such as services and mutual recognition of standards.

The UK would have broad scope to strike free trade deals around the world.

Customs:

Technology would be used to avoid extra customs checks on the borders.

As a result goods travelling into the UK from the EU and vice versa would be tracked and customs paid without extra checks.

The EU has suggested this is ‘magical thinking’. 

Northern Ireland:

The EU says the Canada model would mean border controls are required between Northern Ireland and the Republic to protect the single market and customs union.

It insists Northern Ireland must stay in the bloc’s customs jurisdiction in order to prevent that.

Mrs May has signalled she agrees with the analysis – seemingly the reason she is reluctant to go down this route.

But Brexiteers point out that there is already a tax border between the UK and Ireland, and say technology and trusted trader schemes can avoid the need for more infrastructure. 




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