Theresa May has left open the option of Britain staying under EU for a so-called “transition” period – up from 21 months to a full three years.
Following a key session with 27 fellow European leaders in Brussels, the Prime Minister refused to rule out the extension – which will be incredibly unpopular with Brexiteers.
But what exactly is going on?
WTF Is An Extended Transition, And How Long Will It Last?
Prior to Wednesday’s talks, proposals for a 21-month transition period were already on the table.
This would see the UK continuing to follow EU rules by remaining in the customs union and tariff-free single market trade bloc until December 2020.
Theresa May said she is “ready to consider” a proposal from EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier that the transition be extended until the end of 2021. This would give Britain and the EU more time to work out the Irish border issue.
The border has been a persistent obstacle in negotiations, and Theresa May has rejected EU suggestions of a backstop which would see the Northern Ireland remain in the EU customs union and bound by the bloc’s trade rules.
Instead, the PM wants to keep the UK inside a “temporary” customs deal to prevent a hard Irish border.
WTF Are Ministers Saying About It?
Brexiteers are unhappy with the idea that the UK would be subject to EU rules for even longer – up to five years after the referendum.
Britain would make contributions to the EU for a further year, costing the taxpayer billions of pounds.
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said Brexit could be delayed until the May 2022 election and warned that the UK may never leave.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries accused May of “stalling” and repeated her calls for former Brexit secretary David Davis to replace the PM.
She tweeted: “It’s time to stand aside and let someone who can negotiate get on with it and deliver.
“I fully support DD (David Davis) as an interim leader.”
Conservative MP Nick Boles told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that May is “losing the confidence of colleagues of all shades of opinion” who are “close to despair” at the state of Brexit talks.
“There is a fear that both the Government and the EU are trying to run out the clock,” he added.
Some 60 Eurosceptic MPs – including Davis, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg – signed a joint letter to the PM warning that the Government will not be forgiven by the British people if it “surrenders”, the Telegraph reported.
WTF Does The EU Think?
President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said both sides mentioned the idea of an extended transition.
Michel Barnier told reporters that they had “worked a lot over the past few days and weeks” on talks but that “we are not there yet”.
He added that Brexit must be “orderly” and that more time was needed to work issues out “calmly and patiently”.