British Prime Minister Theresa May did not explicitly reject on Thursday a possible extension of the post-Brexit transition period to conclude a trade agreement with the EU.
An extension of the transition could take place, but only for “a few months,” May said on the second day of a European summit in Brussels.
The prime minister, however, nuanced her words by explaining that she thought it would not be necessary to resort to such a measure.
Extending the period, during which the United Kingdom would remain in the single market, would not solve the Irish border issue but would give more time to negotiate a trade agreement between the EU and London.
The aim would be that such an agreement removes the prospect of a “backstop” approach requested by the EU to avoid the return of a physical border on the island of Ireland, in order to safeguard the 1998 Peace Accords.
Nigel Dodds, of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party – whose support the government needs in key votes – said extending the transition phase would not change the “fundamental problem” with the EU’s backstop plan.
This is because it involves Northern Ireland staying aligned to EU rules, which the DUP – and the UK government – says is unacceptable because it creates a new border in the Irish sea.
Hardline Brexiteers are not impressed either, with Conservative backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg calling it “a rather poor attempt at kicking the can down the road.”