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Theresa May admits Brexit transition could get longer to solve Ireland border conundrum

 

By Gareth Cross

Prime Minister Theresa May has admitted that the transition period for the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union could be extended.

Mrs May said that the Government was considering an extension of a "matter of months" in an attempt to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Theresa May was facing a backlash from Brexiteers (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Theresa May was facing a backlash from Brexiteers (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The UK is set to leave the EU on March 29 2019, with a transition period in place until the end of 2020, however if the new plan goes ahead the transition period will extend into 2021.

The Prime Minister indicated she was willing to consider an extension during a European Council meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier proposed the idea as a potential solution the Irish border issue.

If agreed, the change would mean the UK remaining within the single market and customs union and subject to EU rules and regulations until the end of the transition period.

Following intense speculation Mrs May admitted the proposal was under consideration on Thursday morning.

 "A further idea that has emerged - and it is an idea at this stage - is to create an option to extend the implementation period for a matter of months - and it would only be for a matter of months," the Prime Minister said.

"But the point is that this is not expected to be used, because we are working to ensure that we have that future relationship in place by the end of December 2020.

“I’m clear that it is possible to do that and that is what we are working for. In those circumstances, there would be no need for any proposal of this sort and I’m clear that I expect the implementation period to end at the end of December 2020.”

Any extension would have to be agreed to by Parliament and Mrs May would need the support of the DUP to ensure the passing of the legislation.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that a longer transition period would not work as a replacement for the backstop.

However he said that "if it did help to reassure people that the backstop would never be activated it could be a positive thing".

The backstop would keep Northern Ireland in the EU single market and customs union in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

It is intended to ensure that there will be no hard border in Ireland and the Irish Government have been adamant it must be included in any deal.

Brexiteers have rejected the move saying it would delay the signing of new trade deals around the world, and would cost taxpayers billions of pounds in additional contributions to the EU.

It is estimated the plan could cost the UK as much as £10billion.

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said that it would delay full withdrawal almost until the general election scheduled for May 2022 and “may mean we never leave at all”.

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