European Council meeting 17 October 2018

A roundup of events surrounding the European Council meeting held on the 17 October where European leaders decided that not enough progress has been made in negotiations, resulting in an “impasse” until the UK accepts the terms and conditions of the proposed “backstop” amendment to the EU’s Withdrwal Agreement, regarding the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

It is unclear whether the possibility of an extension to the transition period was discussed at the cabinet meeting held on 16 October where it is stated that

“Dr Fox suggested one option to avert the crisis might be to extend the transition to give more time for a free trade deal to be concluded. This would avoid the need for the backstop to be implemented in 2021, he suggested.”

Prior to the European Council meeting, there were various rumours circulating that Michel Barnier was suggesting that the transition period coud be extended

“…open to the possibility of a one-year extension to Britain’s Brexit transition in return for Theresa May accepting a ‘two-tier’ backstop to avoid a border in Northern Ireland”

Simon Coveney, the Irish deputy prime minister and foreign minister seemd to confirm the rumours when he said

“The EU side is willing to allow more time in the transition period to agree an alternative solution to the backstop.

What Michel Barnier is now suggesting is, let’s ensure the backstop is never likely to be used by creating the space and time for the UK and the EU to be able to negotiate UK-wide customs arrangements.”

On arrival at the meeting Michel Barnier says he will be briefing the European council on the negotiations. He said

They have been working a lot to get an agreement in the past few weeks and days and nights. But we are not there yet. Brexit must be orderly, for everyone and for all the issues, including on the island of Ireland. So we need time, we need much time, much more time, and we will continue to work in the next weeks calmly and patiently, calmly and patiently.

Antonio Tajani, the president of the European parliament, said he was in favour of extending the transition by one year. He said:

We are in favour. Three years is our proposal. I agree with the new proposal of Mr Barnier. This is a good choice.

On her arrival for the summit, Theresa May said

I will be talking to leaders tonight about the very good progress that has been made since Salzburg both on the withdrawal agreement and our future partnership.

The teams have been working very hard to ensure we can address these issues. We have solved most of the issues in the withdrawal agreement. There is still the question of the Northern Irish backstop.

But I believe everybody around the table wants to get a deal. By working intensively and closely, we can achieve that deal.

I believe a deal is achievable and now is the time to make it happen.

When asked,

If you get offered an extension to the transition will you accept it?

Theresa May responded

I think we can get a deal, a deal in the interests of the UK and the EU.

At the European Council working dinner on 17 October 2018, Theresa May was scheduled 30 minutes (19:00 – 19:30 Address by UK Prime Minister Theresa May to the EU27 Leaders) to update the EU27 leaders on the UK perspective of the negotiations. This was to be followed by the European Council Meeting Art. 50 Working Dinner (19:30) by the EU27 leaders to review the state of the negotiations with the UK.

EU27 leaders quickly reached the conclusion that, despite intensive negotiations, not enough progress has been achieved and declared their readiness to convene a European Council, if and when the Union negotiator reports that decisive progress has been made, and proceeded to enjoy their meal.

For now, he EU27 is not planning to organise a summit on Brexit in November.

Meeting finished around 21:30, everybody down the pub then ?

After the meeting

European parliament president Antonio Tajani also confirmed that an extension to the Brexit transition period was considered but wouldn’t solve the Irish border backstop issue

Other reports indicate that Theresa May … was ready to consider extending the Brexit transition period as part of a compromise on the Irish border backstop….

which hasn’t gone down well in the UK

Regarding the Brexit Negotiations, Donald Tusk made the following comments

Statement by Donald Tusk on 18 October 2018

Good afternoon, let me start with Brexit. Yesterday, after listening to Prime Minister May’s assessment of the state of the negotiations, the EU27 confirmed that we want to continue the talks in a positive spirit. Leaders expressed their full trust in Michel Barnier, and asked our negotiator to continue efforts to achieve an agreement. I stand ready to convene a European Council on Brexit, if and when the EU negotiator reports that decisive progress has been made. And we should be clear that, as for now, not enough progress has been made.

As there is a lot of speculation about the length of the transition period once the UK leaves the EU, let me say this. The issue of the length of the transition period was not discussed among the EU27 leaders yesterday. But let me recall that in her Florence speech in September 2017, Prime Minister May proposed a transition period of around 2 years. And the EU accepted this proposal unanimously. Therefore, if the UK decided that an extension of the transition period would be helpful to reach a deal, I am sure that the leaders would be ready to consider it positively.