UK could seek ex­ten­sion to Brexit tran­si­tion, says Theresa May

The Miracle - - Civic Election -

UK Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has said Bri­tain’s di­vorce deal with the Euro­pean Union is 95 per­cent set­tled but ad­mit­ted the prob­lem of the Irish border re­mained a “con­sid­er­able” stick­ing point. Ad­dress­ing the Bri­tish par­lia­ment on Mon­day, May said that the United King­dom might ask for a short ex­ten­sion of a planned tran­si­tion pe­riod to ease its exit from the Euro­pean Union, or Brexit, which is due to take place on March 29, 2019. “There are some limited cir­cum­stances in which it could be ar­gued that an ex­ten­sion to the im­ple­men­ta­tion pe­riod might be prefer­able if we were cer­tain it was only for a short time,” May told leg­is­la­tors in Lon­don. The prime min­is­ter was up­dat­ing par­lia­ment on a sum­mit of EU lead­ers in Brus­sels last week, where she at­tempted to make progress on an agree­ment on the terms of the UK’s with­drawal from the bloc. She re­ported progress on some is­sues in­clud­ing in ar­eas of se­cu­rity, de­fence and Gi­bral­tar, not­ing that “95 per­cent of the with­drawal agree­ment and its pro­to­cols are now set­tled”. Gi­bral­tar, a Bri­tish over­seas ter­ri­tory lo­cated at the tip of the Iberian Penin­sula and reg­u­larly claimed by Spain, will leave the EU along with the UK. But May also ad­mit­ted that the ques­tion of how to avoid a so-called “hard border” be­tween Ire­land and North­ern Ire­land re­mained a ma­jor, un­re­solved chal­lenge. “There is one real stick­ing point left, but a con­sid­er­able one,” she said, re­fer­ring to the Irish ques­tion. When Bri­tain leaves the bloc, some form of border will have to be drawn be­tween North­ern Ire­land - which is part of the UK - and Ire­land - which is an EU mem­ber - to al­low for cus­toms con­trols on goods, pro­duce and live­stock. Both the UK and the EU are keen to avoid a hard border, which would be po­liced and in­volve stops and checks at cross­ing points. The two sides ac­cept that a “back­stop” so­lu­tion is de­sir­able in the case that the UK leaves the EU with­out a com­pre­hen­sive with­drawal agree­ment, although they dis­agree on what the back­stop would en­tail. The EU has pro­posed a back­stop that would in­volve North­ern Ire­land re­main­ing in the EU cus­toms union and large parts of its sin­gle mar­ket.This so­lu­tion would ef­fec­tively re-draw the border be­tween the UK and EU in the Irish Sea, an out­come that Lon­don is keen to avoid. May has pro­posed that the whole of the UK should re­main in the EU cus­toms union. Brus­sels is cur­rently con­sid­er­ing this but has not been pre­pared to ac­cept the pro­posal so far. The EU has also vol­un­teered to ex­tend the post-Brexit sta­tus-quo tran­si­tion pe­riod by one year. Cur­rently, the tran­si­tion pe­riod is due to close at the end of 2020. May said last week that she was open to an ex­ten­sion, a move that drew fierce crit­i­cism from mem­bers of her Con­ser­va­tive party. On Mon­day, she re­it­er­ated the po­si­tion, stat­ing that the UK might need to ask for a short ex­ten­sion “as an al­ter­na­tive to the back­stop”. “I have not com­mit­ted to ex­tend­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion pe­riod,” she said. “I see any ex­ten­sion, or be­ing in any form of back­stop, as un­de­sir­able.” Re­port­ing from Lon­don, Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba said May’s po­si­tion as leader of the party seemed to be in jeop­ardy, amid ru­mours of lead­er­ship chal­lenges. “It seems to be get­ting ever more pre­car­i­ous,” he said. “We are hear­ing that cen­trist Con­ser­va­tive MPs are now join­ing dozens of oth­ers who have sent let­ters to the party chair, ask­ing them to ba­si­cally trig­ger a lead­er­ship con­test.” Baba added that May is ex­pected to hold a cabi­net ses­sion on Tues­day, be­fore pos­si­bly meet­ing back­benchers a day later. “We’ve had ru­mours of chal­lenges be­fore and they’ve gone nowhere - but the clock re­ally is tick­ing,” he said. “Many peo­ple say that this is just to add pres­sure on her not to give in to Brus­sels in terms of that tran­si­tion pe­riod.”

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