No progress at Brexit summit, talks continue

Pauline Gross
October 18, 2018

Have made good progress on Brexit talks.

The Prime Minister travels to Brussels for what had been billed as "the moment of truth" in the negotiations amid growing concerns the two sides will be unable to bridge the gap over the key issue of agreeing a "backstop" deal to ensure there will not be a return to a hard border in Ireland when the United Kingdom quits the EU.

An extension of the UK's Brexit transition period "probably will happen", the President of the European Commission has said, in a move that will further anger Tory MPs, and isolate Theresa May.

However, Government sources insisted Downing Street was not calling for an extension to transition arrangements as Theresa May prepares to address European Union leaders as she battles to keep her faltering hopes of securing a Brexit deal alive.

Talks on finalising the UK's withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on future trade relations with the EU have been blocked by failure to agree on a backstop to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the event that an agreement on future EU-UK relations can not be struck.

But, after Britain's refusal to accept an indefinite legal "backstop" to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, doubts are mounting.

May faces a battle to find a solution that is acceptable to both the European Union and hardline Brexit supporters in her own deeply-divided Conservative party, who could block the final deal in the House of Commons.

"We are calling on people to step up and make it clear to Governments in London, Dublin and Brussels and across Europe that the views of the people of Northern Ireland are not represented by those who seek hard borders or a hard Brexit".

"I did not perceive anything substantially new in the content as I listened to May", he told reporters after the meeting, adding that May's tone was more relaxed than at the summit in Salzburg in September, as was her message was of goodwill and readiness to reach an agreement.

Tajani said May had offered nothing new, though he thought her "body language" was positive.

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SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford later urged the Prime Minister to negotiate continued membership of the single market and customs union to "avoid an economic catastrophe".

The leaders are expected to announce on Thursday whether or not they will hold a special summit in November to finalise a Brexit deal.

"I think we are quite close to a no-deal", warned Konrad Szymanski, the Polish minister for European Affairs, after a pre-summit meeting with his European counterparts in Luxembourg.

The DUP has said it will not sign up to any backstop clause which would create new checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. That could trigger a leadership contest, a so-called no deal Brexit and even a new election.

The St Austell and Newquay MP said: "The tourism and hospitality sector is very concerned that they will be able to continue to access the seasonal workforce they need once we leave the EU".

But she failed to respond to a call by EU President Donald Tusk for "concrete proposals" of her own to move the talks forward.

Brexiteer-in-chief and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage said that it would delay full withdrawal nearly until the general election scheduled for May 2022 and "may mean we never leave at all".

"Today, we do not know what they want", she said.

"May is testing the water by saying that she is open to an extension, but her proposal for one only as a fallback option and only for a few months, reflects her concerns about the political backlash", she said.

Theresa May has insisted a Brexit deal remains "achievable" at the start of a European summit which has been overshadowed by a set back in negotiations.

Other reports by GizPress

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