Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, has attempted to downplay anger regarding a plan to extend the post-Brexit transition period of the United Kingdom, just hours after presenting the idea to the leaders of the European Union.
Talking in Brussels, the Prime Minister claimed that keeping the United Kingdom signed up to the rules of the European Union for another year was not her idea, however, she said that it could indeed be a solution to the issue over the Irish backstop.
Her comments came less than 24 hours after she had informed her EU counterparts that an extension to the transition period past the original plan of December 2020 was an option in order to secure a post-Brexit trade deal.
The idea provoked outrage from many of the Tory MPs, with Bill Cash, a veteran eurosceptic, describing it as “unthinkable”, while Nick Boles, a former Remain campaigner, branding it as “madness.”
Lengthening the transition period would see the United Kingdom continuing to pay billions into the budget of the European Union and following the rules of Brussels on regulation, trade, and free movement.
However, the United Kingdom would have no voice in the European Parliament and no formal position in other institutions of the bloc.
Talking during the conclusion of the latest EU summit, May attempted to dampen the row, however, she also admitted that extending the transition period was under consideration.
She stated: “I’ve always been very clear that we negotiated an implementation period with the EU and we negotiated that that implementation period would end at the end of December 2020.”
She added: “What has now emerged is the idea that an option to extend the implementation period could be a further solution to this issue of backstop in Northern Ireland.”
May continued: “What we are not doing, we are not standing her proposing an extension to the implementation period.”
In a post-summit press conference, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, suggested that an additional period of transition would not be necessary once a “political solution” to the deadlock was found.
In his own comments to the press, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, revealed that EU leaders had not actually talked about a longer transition period after May suggested the idea.
He added: “I am sure the leaders would be ready to consider it positively.”
Last Wednesday, EU leaders decided not to give the go-ahead for a special Brexit summit to that was supposed to be held in November, as sufficient progress has not been made regarding the Irish backstop issue.
Despite the deadlock, Tusk attempted to sound enthusiastic during his press conference – a contrast to his comments at the close of a summit that was held in Salzburg last September when he said that May’s plan for a post-Brexit trade deal with the bloc would not work.
Tusk stated: “We are in a much better mood than after Salzburg.” He added that his optimism was “maybe more emotional” than “rational.”