UK’s Brexit transition period may be extended

Merkel and Macron turn up heat on May to find a political solution to impasse

European Union leaders have told British prime minister Theresa May they are willing to extend Britain's post-Brexit transition if it would help to resolve the impasse over Northern Ireland.

But German chancellor Angela Merkel said all possible solutions had already been sounded out and French president Emmanuel Macron said it was up to Britain to find a political solution.

Under pressure from within her own party at Westminster, Mrs May played down the proposal to extend the transition period, which is due to end in December 2020. However, she said she was committed to working with the EU to quickly resolve the backstop issue, which was blocking progress towards a Brexit deal.

“What we are doing is working to ensure we have a solution to the backstop issue in Northern Ireland, which is currently a blockage to completing the deal, that enables us to get on with completing a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people and is good for the future of the UK,” she said.


Special summit

The other EU leaders decided not to convene a special summit next month to discuss Brexit but they kept open the option of doing so if negotiations make progress, and they decided against calling a “no-deal” summit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the other leaders understood the domestic political pressures faced by the British prime minister.

“There is absolutely an acknowledgement across the European Union – we’re all politicians, we do understand that prime minister May has to get a deal that she can get through Westminster,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said his decision to show the leaders at Wednesday's dinner a copy of that day's Irish Times, which carried a story on the bombing of a customs post in 1972, was to illustrate "what used to happen when we had customs posts in Ireland".

Dr Merkel said: “We all need to find an answer on Ireland and Northern Ireland. But if you don’t have an agreement then you don’t have an answer either for Ireland or Northern Ireland.

“I think that all of the different avenues have been sounded out quite thoroughly, all of the possibilities.”

European Council president Donald Tusk said he felt a solution was closer than before but Mr Macron said the EU could not make further compromises and it was now up to Britain to propose a solution on the backstop.

“The EU has already demonstrated our flexibility, but there are limits. We cannot jeopardise the single market, the four fundamental liberties, or Ireland,” he said.

“It is no longer a technical issue but one of the political capacity of the UK to find a solution.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times