May 'to consider' extending UK's post-Brexit transition period

May 'to consider' extending UK's post-Brexit transition period

Diplomats say European Union negotiator Michel Barnier is willing to add a year to the already planned 21-month post Brexit transition period, when Britain's relationship with the bloc stays largely the same.

During this period, which is due to finish on 31 December 2020, the UK's relationship with the European Union will stay largely the same. Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said "we need much time, much more time, and we continue to work in the next weeks". "There is still the question of the Northern Irish backstop".

Theresa May returns to Westminster on Friday facing one of the most unsafe weeks of her premiership, with Conservative MPs from all sides of the party losing patience in her handling of Brexit. The backstop covers regulatory alignment as well, particularly regarding the free movement of goods. The shared commitments also go further, however, and include upholding the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and supporting north-south cooperation on the island of Ireland and the all-island economy.

Mrs May initially suggested an "implementation period" of around two years after Brexit, to give the UK's authorities and companies time to prepare for the new arrangements.

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.

The Democratic Unionists, however, have threatened "consequences" if the British government does anything which could undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK.

Either two-thirds of MPs back a new election, or they pass a motion of no confidence in the government and fail to agree an alternative within a fortnight.

Should a solution not be found, the transition period, which is supposed to run until the end of 2020, could be extended by a year.

Meanwhile, the top European Union trade official played down the importance of a USA announcement that it will pursue a trade deal with Britain, noting London can not negotiate such pacts until it leaves the bloc.

Brexit graphic

And the suggestion 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.

These kinds of reactions show why May has no room for manoeuvre domestically, says Rachel Sylvester in The Times. Disagreement over the backstop has brought divorce negotiations to a standstill. They are also unlikely to start in earnest immediately after March 29 2019.

Antonio Tajani, the European Parliament President, said: "I listened carefully to what May had to say".

May traveled to Brussels Wednesday to address the leaders of the remaining 27 European Union member states, and the border issue emerged as the big stumbling block.

Expectations that the future UK-EU relationship could be negotiated and approved within 18 months of the UK's withdrawal are unrealistic. Having the option of extending the transition period therefore makes sense. Regardless how one voted in the referendum, the Brexit "black hole" which has consumed our debate has pushed vital domestic policy issues - like housing, welfare, and social care - out of the spotlight. Politics matters. And an extension to the transition period clearly has its opponents.

But as the summit came to a close on Thursday evening, it was rumours that the PM could agree to extend the UK's Brexit transition period beyond 2020 in a bid to secure a deal that sparked fury from Tory MPs.

After her Chequers plan for Brexit was humiliatingly rejected in Salzburg last month and efforts to seal a last-minute deal foundered last weekend over the EU's demand for a "backstop" arrangement for Ireland, May was fighting to keep the door open for an agreement to deliver an orderly withdrawal.

Kallum Pickering, a United Kingdom economist at Berenberg, said that "a longer transitional period would be a positive outcome for the United Kingdom economy as it would allow the U.K.to enjoy the benefits of participating in the EU single market and customs union for an extra year".

Ms. May has balked at the backstop, arguing it would isolate Northern Ireland from the rest of the country.

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