British Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated she is ready to consider extending the UK’s transition out of the EU for an additional year to the end of 2021.
If agreed, the change would mean the UK remaining within the single market and customs union and subject to EU rules and regulations for almost three years after the official date of Brexit in March 2019 and more than five years after the referendum vote to leave.
Ms May is fighting to preserve the possibility of a deal with Brussels on the UK’s withdrawal, after negotiations foundered last weekend on the intractable issue of the Irish border.
She addressed leaders of the 27 remaining EU member states in Brussels ahead of a dinner at which they discussed Brexit in her absence.
“Both sides mentioned the idea of an extension of the transition period as one possibility which is on the table and would have to be looked into,” European Parliament president Antonio Tajani said.
A senior EU official later said Ms May had indicated she was “ready to consider” a longer transition period.
Ms 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.
But she later accepted a 21-month transition offered by the EU, ending on the last day of December 2020.
It emerged on Wednesday that the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was ready to discuss a further year’s extension to allow time to find a solution to keep the Irish border open.
UK officials stressed that the Prime Minister was not proposing any extension to the period already agreed.
The meeting in Brussels was supposed to be the occasion when the leaders of the EU 27 member states gave the green light for a special summit in November to finalise the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.
However, European Council president Donald Tusk has warned that without new “concrete proposals” from the British to break the logjam over the Irish border backstop, further progress on a deal may be impossible.