Brussels – British Prime Minister Theresa May is due to meet her 27 EU counterparts in Brussels later Wednesday amid efforts to find new ways of breaking a Brexit impasse, with time running out to avoid Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal in March.
Difficulty reaching agreement
Ten days of intense negotiations between Brussels and London came to a halt on Sunday, when it became clear that they would not succeed in finalizing a Brexit divorce deal in time for this week’s EU summit. The key sticking point is the Irish border issue.
EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told member states on Tuesday that he had offered to extend Britain’s 21-month transition period by a year, diplomats in Brussels confirmed Wednesday. During this period, Britain remains bound by the bulk of EU rules.
Such an extension would buy more time to negotiate the future relationship between Britain and the EU, however the offer was not sufficient on Sunday to deliver a breakthrough.
Media reported that Brussels in turn expects London to make concessions over the Irish border issue.
Brussels and London have promised to avoid a return to border checks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which will leave the EU with Britain, amid concerns of a new flare-up in decades-old tensions. But they disagree on how to achieve this.
On Tuesday, European Council President Donald Tusk called on May to bring fresh ideas to Brussels, describing the Irish problem as a “new version of the Gordian knot.”
Prepare for all scenarios
Tusk and May are due to meet later Wednesday, before the summit gets under way. Other bilateral talks could also take place.
In the evening, May is expected to address her 27 EU counterparts before they hold talks over dinner without her on how to proceed. They are expected to discuss whether to hold a special summit in November, as well as preparations for a no-deal scenario.
Meanwhile, a survey released Wednesday showed that a narrow majority of Brits would now vote to stay in the EU.
Around every second person in Britain – 51 per cent – would now choose to remain, the poll commissioned by the European Parliament found.
Thirty-four per cent of people surveyed said they would still choose Brexit, while 11 per cent were undecided.
Britain voted to leave the EU by a majority of 52 per cent in a 2016 referendum.