Bettel says United Kingdom must 'take decisions now' on Brexit

The Guardian               Former Brexit minister Steve Baker

The Guardian Former Brexit minister Steve Baker

The taoiseach said he is open to the idea of an extension but it fails to resolve the border issue.

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.

If agreed, the change would mean the United Kingdom remaining within the single market and customs union and subject to EU rules and regulations for nearly three years after the official date of Brexit in March 2019 and more than five years after the referendum vote to Leave.

May confirmed on Thursday that she was considering extending the 21-month transition - the grace period that's due to kick in on Brexit day and maintain trading and market rules unchanged. Particularly since we will have already paid our £39bn financial settlement on leaving, says Boris Johnson, the pro-Brexit former foreign secretary, in the same paper.

That more positive atmosphere was echoed by other European Union officials, saying May appeared to show greater understanding for some of the EU's concerns, including Ireland's need for an insurance "backstop" to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland - the key stumbling block so far in the talks.

But EU chiefs indicated it could be extended when they met at the European Council summit this week in Brussels.

In her news conference Mrs May appeared to rehearse the arguments she will likely use to argue back against those criticisms - that the idea isn't new, that it wasn't requested by the United Kingdom, but that it is worth considering if it opens up the blockage of the Irish backstop.

But with talks at an impasse, the bloc has suggested extending that period to provide more time to strike an agreement that ensures the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains friction-free.

And the suggestion - first made by European Union negotiators - that Britain could stay firmly in the EU's sphere for longer than the 21 months expected has fired up those who already say Britain has already given up too much in the negotiations.

London is set to leave the European Union on March 29, 2019, although the bloc's leaders could agree to delay this.

While the Irish border issue is holding up a comprehensive Brexit deal, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says the status of Gibraltar won't be an obstacle.

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He said: "We have an industry out there which was shattered over the past 40 years".

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.

The possibility of extending the transition period, set to end by December 2020, was also mooted at the Brussels summit.

"Imagine a situation whereby those opposing a deal would be able to say, as a result of a vote in the House of Commons, not only would that deal be defeated, it would also bring down the Irish Government, so I'm not sure if Deputy Martin really thought that through".

Its co-chair Richard Tice said: "The original transition was an unnecessary trap created by our weak civil servants who can not be trusted as they don't want us to leave".

No EU leader reacted to May's speech, as has been the tradition with the Brexit discussions at EU level.

Many EU leaders "see the delays as a negotiating tactic by London to try to force concessions", Nelson reported.

They said this would "undermine the integrity" of the UK.

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

More positive noises out of Brussels about reaching a Brexit agreement - the dominant driver of sterling - have been offset by growing unease within Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative party about the sort of deal she is hoping to forge.

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