European Union summit: Theresa May says 'maybe' to transition period extension

However, May's idea for an extension to the transition period was lambasted by Gabi Zimmer, GUE/NGL leader and member of the Parliament's Brexit Steering Group.

London and Brussels can not agree how to keep the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland open after Britain leaves the bloc in March.

But it also, after an intervention by the Democratic Unionist party, committed the United Kingdom (not the EU) not to have any trading differences between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

"On the first two issues, there is an agreement, more or less". But even an extension will not get rid of the EU's insistence that such a backstop must be agreed to secure a deal.

All of those mileposts are on the drive toward March 29, when Britain will officially exit the European Union, triggering a transition period that will last through 2020.

The Irish and the European Union will also still need the backstop in the withdrawal agreement, which must be signed before the business of the trade deal can get under way.

After talks stalled over the weekend, one of the bloc's negotiators told diplomats that Brussels had proposed extending the transition by a year to make its proposal for an Irish backstop - already ruled out by Britain - more palatable. Britain would have to negotiate this but it has been estimated at anywhere between £10bn and £17bn.

Staying in the EU for another year would also mean continued freedom of movement and being under the European court of justice, which Brexiters would oppose.

With no deal in place, the European Union is proposing that Britain be tied to the bloc for an extra year, which would extend the Brexit transition period to the end of 2021.

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Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Friday, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said that Tory MPs must rally behind their leader, adding: "Theresa May has not buckled, she has stood firm".

No EU leader reacted to May's speech, as has been the tradition with the Brexit discussions at EU level.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, traditionally an ally of May's in the bloc, said "we have the instruments on the table and it should be doable".

"I think "soft Brexit" seems to be unfortunately out of the question", Stubb said of the possibility that the U.K.might maintain close economic ties to the EU.

She said she still expected the implementation period to come to an end, as scheduled, by December 2020. "I remain confident of a good outcome", she told the leaders, according to a British official.

Mrs May declined to put any fixed date on the possible extension to the UK's transition period, which she has said could last "a matter of months" into 2021.

Critics, including politicians from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), also point out that an extended transition would do nothing to resolve the issue of the Irish backstop itself.

"The Irish and others are very quick to lecture everyone else about language but feel very happy to wave about the return of terrorism in their pursuit of their political objectives", he said, before claiming that "one of the reasons there was so much Border violence was the IRA could carry out such attacks and then find sanctuary in the Republic where they were shielded from extradition by successive Irish governments, including those led by his own party".

"There's a real sense that what we're doing is working to ensure that we can do this deal within a reasonable timetable", she said.

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