By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
LONDON (AA) – European Union officials decided late Wednesday not to hold an emergency Brexit summit in November due to a lack of progress in talks with the UK.
A final Brexit deal that would benefit both the UK and the EU is more in doubt than ever with negotiations now stalled.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said he will need a lot more time to look at British Prime Minister Theresa May’s offer to keep the whole of the UK in a sort of alignment with the EU together with Northern Ireland after Brexit.
May also requested a one-year extension to the transition period, which was principally agreed last December to conclude at the end of 2020.
But following a short presentation from May, EU leaders said she had brought nothing new to Brussels.
An optimistic May had said on arriving at the European Council that she believed that a deal was still achievable and it was now “time to make it happen”.
Earlier Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the chance to conclude “a good and viable agreement on time is still there, and of course it is in our interest”.
“At the same time, it is part of a responsible and future-oriented governance to be ready for all scenarios, including the possibility that the UK will withdraw from the EU without a deal.”
Echoing Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had confidence in the Brexit talks, “but we are not yet there”.
Macron said now is the time to decide on Brexit, but more progress is needed in the talks.
Meanwhile, France’s Senate has published contingency measures in case of a no-deal Brexit.
– Irish border
As the UK will leave the bloc in March 2019, the border between Northern Ireland – a UK territory – and the Republic of Ireland will remain as the only land border between the UK and the EU.
The border at the moment is invisible, and people, goods and services can travel through it freely. But as the UK leaves the EU, the border, technically, will need some sort of checks.
Due to the sensitive nature of the region and because free passage is one of the crucial articles of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the UK, EU, Northern Ireland and Ireland all reject the idea of returning to a hard border where checkpoints and customs buildings will need to be installed.
The border issue has been one of the thorniest in Brexit talks as a solution that would be acceptable for all sides is still to be reached.
The main disagreement over the border issue has been over a EU-suggested backstop – keeping Northern Ireland in the EU single market and customs union after Brexit until a solution is found – because it would create a sort of a border within the UK in the Irish Sea.
May has said they would not give in to any solution that would divide the UK.
Northern Ireland’s biggest political party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has said it would not agree on any final deal that would separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
The DUP’s support is crucial for the continuation of May’s government after her party lost the majority in parliament following a snap election last year and the Tories and the DUP signed a confidence-and-supply deal which effectively means the DUP helps keep the Conservatives in power.
– What next?
British and EU leaders are expected to meet Thursday to discuss probable next steps to advance further in talks to avoid a no-deal scenario.
But May will almost certainly face a domestic impasse back home as up to 40 Tory MPs signaled last week that they would trigger a vote of no confidence against her as they think she will not deliver a Brexit that people voted for. They particularly are against the idea of leaving the country anchored to EU rules and laws without any say in the EU’s decision-making mechanisms.
She will also face reservations from the DUP over any possible concession regarding the backstop that the EU says is needed for a final deal.