British Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday that “ now is the time ” to make a Brexit deal happen, as she arrived for a summit with EU leaders seeking to unblock stalled divorce talks .May will pitch her vision of how to save the talks on Britain ’ s exit from the union on March 29 to European leaders left frustrated by a dramatic breakdown in negotiations on Sunday .
Before the summit , Germany ’ s Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a stern warning that Europe must be prepared for a no – deal Brexit but as she arrived pledged to “ try everything to find an agreement ” .
Negotiations are at an impasse over the issue of a legal backstop to keep open the border between British Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic , an EU member .
May faces a battle to find a solution that is acceptable to both the EU and hardline Brexit supporters in her own deeply -divided Conservative party, but she insisted that a deal is achievable and that “ now is the time to make it happen” .
“ I believe everybody around the table wants to get a deal . By working intensively and closely we can achieve that deal , ” she told reporters as she arrived for the summit .
Ahead of the summit , European Council President Donald Tusk had urged May to offer new “ concrete ideas on how to break the impasse ” .
Lithuania ’ s President Dalia Grybauskaite — speaking bluntly but reflecting a widely- shared view — poured cold water on hopes of major developments on Wednesday , saying “ today there will be no breakthrough ” .
“ The main thing we would like to hear and see is ( the clear ) position of ( the) UK — what really they want . Today we do not know what they want . They do not know themselves what they want , ” she said .
But French President Emmanuel Macron — who held an unexpected one -on -one with May before the summit dinner — struck a positive note , saying “ we are not so far ” from a deal but cautioning that “ now we must accelerate the work ” .
Neither side has shown much sign of flexibility , but EU negotiator Michel Barnier is willing to add a year to the 21 -month post Brexit transition period — taking it to the end of 2021 , two diplomats said on condition of anonymity .
The idea would be to give more time to negotiate a deal on future relations and find a formula to defuse the Irish border question .
But a longer transition would not necessarily resolve the backstop issue which must be included in the withdrawal treaty and ratified before the end of March to avoid the damaging “ no deal ” scenario .
Barnier said “ we need time , we need much more time ” for talks as he arrived to brief leaders , vowing to work “ calmly and patiently” for a deal in the coming weeks .
– Tricky divorce –
Even the choreography of Wednesday ’ s summit opening highlights British isolation .
After one -on -one meetings with Tusk , European Commission chief Jean – Claude Juncker and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar , May will brief her 27 European colleagues before leaving the EU leaders to discuss Brexit over dinner without her .
Tusk has made it clear that if May and Barnier do not signal concrete progress towards a draft deal he will not call a November summit to sign it .
Instead , the matter could either be pushed back to December or — more dramatically — the EU could use the November weekend to meet on preparations for a “ no – deal ” Brexit .
Previously , both sides had agreed that Britain crashing out of the Union on March 29 next year with neither a divorce agreement nor a road – map to future ties would be an economic and diplomatic disaster .
But with the row over the Irish border , fears of a debacle are mounting .
– No deal plans –
To solve the Irish question , Britain has proposed staying aligned to the EU’ s customs rules until a wider trade deal can be signed that avoids the need for any frontier checks.
But May ’ s own eurosceptic Conservative MPs are demanding this “ backstop” arrangement be time – limited , something the EU will not accept .
May said the EU was also insisting on its own “ backstop” in case the London proposal did not work , which would see Northern Ireland alone stay aligned with the bloc’ s customs union and single market.
She says this would threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom — and it is strongly opposed by her Northern Irish allies from the Democratic Unionist Party ( DUP ) who provide her with crucial support in parliament .
( AFP )
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