France and Germany have urged Michel Barnier to be ‘more flexible’ in Brexit talks as hopes a deal can be thrashed out by the end of the year fade.
The two leaders are said to be in ‘deal mode’ and keen to help Theresa May get a deadline as the crunch talks enter their final, crucial months.
Mr Macron is said to have adopted a more conciliatory approach privately than he did in public yesterday when he said it is up to the UK to compromise in a way that does not breach the EU’s red lines.
Mrs May is facing a mutiny among her backbenchers in Britain after she admitted the Brexit transition period could be extended by ‘months’.
The suggestion has sparked fury among Brexiteers and Remainers who say the plan will leave the UK having to swallow EU rules while having no say in them.
And they have lashed the prospect of Britain having to pour yet more billions into the EU budget.
Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron (pictured together at the EU summit on Wednesday) reportedly implored the EU’s chief negotiator to give a legal guarantee that no new customs border will be set up between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Angela Merkel (pictured at the EU summit in Brussels this morning) has said that she wants to see a deal done but warned that not enough progress has yet been made
Emmanuel Macron (pictured at the Eu summit on Brussels yesterday) and Angela Merkelare said to be in ‘deal mode’ and keen to help Theresa May get a deadline as the crunch talks enter their final, crucial months
Ex Brexit minister Lord Bridges – who backed Remain – branded the plan ‘dead on arrival’ while Tory Eurosceptic MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said it is a ‘poor attempt at kicking the can down the road’.
But as Tory MPs pile the pressure on the PM at home, EU leaders are said to finally be keen to help her get an agreement avoid a cliff edge no deal.
Former Brexit minister savages May’s plan for a Brexit transition extension as ‘dead on arrival’
Lord Bridges, who served in the Department for Exiting the European Union between July 2016 and June 2017, joined a chorus of criticism after the Prime Minister raised the possibility of the new concession
Theresa May is facing the most dangerous week of her premiership after angering Tories of all stripes over her proposal to extend the Brexit transition period, an idea one former Brexit minister called ‘dead on arrival’.
Remainer Lord Bridges, who served in the Department for Exiting the European Union between July 2016 and June 2017, joined a chorus of criticism last night after the Prime Minister raised the possibility of the new concession.
The news has unleashed a new frenzy of plotting against the Prime Minister, with former Brexit secretary David Davis calling round ministers to call for a change in the negotiations – prompting rumours of a leadership challenge.
‘He is definitely on manoeuvres,’ one recipient of a call told The Times.
Although friends of Mr Davis insist he is only seeking a reversal of policy, not a change in leader, there are said to be a small but growing group of Tory MPs who would like to install him in a caretaker capacity.
One senior Conservative said the ‘current was flowing’ against Mrs May as Brexiteer MPs met to discuss submitting letters of no confidence – with 48 needed to dislodge her.
Sources told The Times that at the working dinner at the EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday night, the French and German leaders both called for more creativity.
The German Chancellor urged him to launch a fresh push to find a new alternative to the EU’s Irish backstop plans which would avoid new customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Mrs May said that this is her ‘red line’ and no British PM could agree to the EU’s current proposal, which would see Northern Ireland alone tied into their customs and singe market rules.
And the DUP – whose ten MPs wield a massive amount of power because they prop the Tories up in No10 – have threatened to collapse the government if the red line is flouted.
A diplomat told the newspaper: ‘She asked Mr Barnier to be more flexible on Ireland.’
Speaking publicly yesterday, Mrs Merkel told a press conference in Brussels that she is determined to see a deal done.
But she warned that still not enough progress has been made on the talks to get a deal over the line.
She said: ‘All of the 27 said that we wish to bring about a solution, one that clearly expresses the fact that Britain is no longer a member of the EU, but also expresses what we all want politically speaking – namely that we establish a good relationship with Britain for the future.’
‘As long as we don’t have a satisfactory solution we cannot really explain in a satisfactory way how this is to come about but I think where there is a will there is a way. That is usually the way.
‘We agreed that once there is sufficient progress we will meet again at any point in time that is convenient, but right now we cannot safely say when such a meeting should take place.’
Mr Macron said that the problems in Brexit talks were ‘no longer a technical issue’ but followed a ‘political inability for the UK to reach an agreement that can be presented to us’.
at her own press conference at yesterday’s summit, Mrs May admitted that a longer transition period is now on the cards.
She said: ‘This is an idea that has been around before. I have been asked about the potential for an extension in the House of Commons previously.
Theresa May (pictured today at the EU’s Asia Summit in Brussels with Donald Tusk) faces a mutiny among her backbenchers in Britain after she admitted the Brexit transition period could be extended by ‘months’
‘I have always been very clear that we negotiated an implementation period with the EU, and we negotiated that implementation period would end at the end of December 2020.
‘What has now emerged is the idea that an option to extend the implementation period could be a further solution to this issue of the backstop in Northern Ireland.
‘What we are not doing, we are not standing here proposing an extension to the implementation period.
‘What we are doing is working to ensure that 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 the deal that delivers on the vote of the British people and is good for the future of the UK.’
What is the Brexit transition and how could it be extended?
What is the Brexit transition period?
The EU and UK agreed in March that there would be a 21-month transition after Brexit day on March 29, 2019. It is due to expire on December 31, 2020.
In the period Britain will still obey all EU rules without having any say in setting them, pay membership fees, and have the same trade terms.
The current plan has not yet been voted on in Parliament.
How long could it be extended?
There is a new proposal to extend transition for another few months, possibly to the end of 2021.
Why is there talk of extending it?
March’s agreement also included a commitment to create a ‘backstop’ on the Irish border – a back up plan to ensure the border stays open in the absence of a long term trade deal.
There is a deep dispute over how this should work so the new suggestion is a longer transition could allow a full trade deal to be completed in time for the backstop never to be used.
The theory is this takes pressure off the exact form of the backstop, making it easier to agree and solving the last issue in the divorce deal.
Does anyone support extending it?
The EU says it is willing to adopt a longer transition if Britain asks for it.
Theresa May says Britain is not asking for a longer transition – but might accept a mechanism for extending the current transition.
Tory Brexiteers hate the idea, fearing it will just be extended again and again and leave Britain facing billions in extra charges.
Government sources tried to calm the row today by insisting an extension would only be acceptable if the EU accepted the UK’s version of the backstop.
Would it solve the Irish problem?
Nobody knows. Both sides are still far apart on how the backstop will work and there is doubt a full trade deal can be finished even by the end of 2021.
What happens if transition is extended?
Britain would continue to follow all EU rules without having a say on how new ones are made – meaning continued free movement, European Court judgements and bills to Brussels.
Trade across the Channel would also continue under today’s rules.