It may be too late for Theresa May to win back trust in Brussels and London

Part of problem is Downing Street did not to roll the pitch before announcement

Theresa May arrives at the European Council in Brussels on Thursday. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand /AFP/Getty

Theresa May arrives at the European Council in Brussels on Thursday. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand /AFP/Getty

 

On her way into the European Council building this morning, Theresa May told reporters that she was considering an extension of the post-Brexit transition beyond the end of 2020. But she played down its significance, suggesting that it was just another idea about how to resolve the issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.

“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,” she said.

The prime minister may have won some indulgence from the EU leaders by sounding open to new ideas but the proposal for an extended transition has alarmed her Brexiteer backbenchers. Part of the problem was that Downing Street chose not to roll the pitch in advance of the news that May was considering it, which European Parliament president Antonio Tajani blurted out in Brussels last night.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg warned this morning that an extra year in transition after Brexit would leave Britain as a “vassal state” for another 12 months, following rules set in Brussels and paying into the EU budget.

The prime minister and her allies insist that an extension of the transition would only last a few months and would probably not be invoked in any case.

But after so many compromises May said she would never contemplate and then accepted soon afterwards, the Brexiteers are sceptical about her latest assurances.

At the end of her 15-minute statement to EU leaders on Wednesday night, May said that the last stage of the Brexit negotiations required “courage, trust and leadership”.

It’s never too late to show courage or leadership but the prime minister may have run out of time to win back the trust she has lost in Brussels and at Westminster.

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