EU willing to extend post-Brexit transition period in bid to end deadlock, says Irish Deputy PM
The EU is willing to extend the post-Brexit transition period in an attempt to break the deadlock which has seen negotiations grind to a halt, the Irish deputy Prime Minister has said.
In a move likely to anger Brexiteers, Simon Coveney said the move could buy more time to find a solution to the Irish border issue.
Theresa May has said she cannot sign up to any deal which would leave Northern Ireland in the customs union and large parts of the single market.
However, Brussels has so far rejected the Prime Minister's proposal of keeping the whole of the UK in a customs union with the EU temporarily while a way is found to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The transition period - or "implementation period" - during which the UK is obliged to stick to the EU's rules, is due to run until the end of 2020.
But the Financial Times reported this morning that Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, was willing to extend it by 12 months if the current impasse in the talks continue.
Speaking on Radio Four's Today programme, Mr Coveney said: "The EU side is willing to allow more time in the transition period to agree an alternative solution to the backstop.
"What Michel Barnier is now suggesting is: let’s ensure the backstop is never likely to be used by creating the space and time for the UK and the EU to be able to negotiate UK-wide customs arrangements."
However, he also stressed that the UK cannot renege on its commitments to keeping an open Irish border.
He said: "This is like if you take out fire insurance on your home. It’s there to reassure people there is a fallback position if all else fails."
A Downing Street spokesman insisted they were "not calling for an extension of the implementation period", but would not say whether they would accept one if it was offered.
Former Brexit minister and leading eurosceptic Steve Baker told PoliticsHome: "We need facts at this time, not running commentary on rumour."
The latest development came as Mrs May prepares to address the other 27 EU leaders at a summit in Brussels this evening.