Brexit summit: May in Brussels, November summit ditched

EU leaders gather in Brussels as crucial talks on Brexit continue

Sarah Burns Thu, Oct 18
LIVE: Brexit summit: May in Brussels, November summit ditched

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  • This event has now ended
  • 07:33
    Good morning, an EU summit in Brussels continues today. The Irish Times will be running a liveblog throughout the day with all the latest updates.    
  • 07:34

    EU leaders have agreed that not enough progress has been achieved in Brexit negotiations to convene a special summit next month.
    After hearing a 15-minute presentation from British prime minister Theresa May on Wednesday, leaders are not planning to organise a special summit.
    If decisive progress is made in the next few weeks however, the leaders agreed that they would convene such a meeting.
    Our front page report is here.

  • 07:35
  • 07:36
  • 07:37
    Taoiseach Leo Varadkar brought a copy of Wednesday’s Irish Times, which featured a story on an IRA bombing of a Border customs post in 1972, into the summit dinner last night to stress to EU leaders the importance of the issue for Ireland.
    Mr Varadkar told EU leaders there were issues arising from Brexit around trade but the issue of peace was so much bigger.
    Here is Wednesday’s piece from Simon Carswell.
  • 07:43

    Here is today’s schedule from Brussels

    European Council Meeting
    09:30  Exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament
    10:00 Working session

    Euro summit
    13:00  Working lunch
    15:30 Press conference
    16:15  Meeting with Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenković

    ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) summit
    19:00  Welcome and official handshake of non-EU heads of delegation
    19:25  Opening ceremony and session with the stakeholders
    21:00 Gala dinner in presence of H.M. King Philippe of Belgium

  • 07:46
  • 07:51
    The majority of Irish voters believe that the Taoiseach should stick to his position on Brexit and should not compromise to achieve a deal with the UK.
    The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll shows that most voters are “very concerned” that any sort of new Border would damage peace in Ireland.
    Older voters were the most concerned by the prospect of the return of some sort of Border on the island after Brexit. The full report is here.
  • 07:58
    Denis Staunton reports from Brussels that British prime minister Theresa May was at pains to stress the progress that had been made over the past year.
    Ms May restated her commitment to a “legally operable” backstop in her bilateral meeting with the Taoiseach and again when she addressed the 27 leaders.
  • 08:02
  • 08:09
  • 08:16

    Arriving in Brussels on Wednesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the UK’s fulfilling of its commitment to a backstop that is not time-limited is a matter of trust as well as principle.
    The backstop is a guarantee that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland no matter what the outcome of future trade talks between the EU and UK.
    “It can be temporary by all means,” he said, “but it can’t have an expiry date...unless and until we have an alternative agreement that also assures us that we will have no border on the island of Ireland."
    Here is the full report from Europe Editor Patrick Smith.

  • 08:19
  • 08:21
    Arriving at the European Council summit in Brussels this morning, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that the option had emerged to extend the Brexit transition period “for a matter of months”, but that she still expected it to conclude at the end of 2020.  
  • 08:29

    British Prime Minister  Theresa May  has asked  European Union  leaders to help her find a creative way out of the impasse in  Brexit  negotiations surrounding the  Northern Ireland  backstop.

    Addressing the 27 leaders at the start of a summit in  Brussels  on Wednesday night, Ms May said she remained fully committed to a legally operable backstop to guarantee there can be no return to a hard Border.

    The prime minister said that, despite the failure of British and EU negotiators to reach a deal on the withdrawal agreement ahead of the summit, the two sides had defied expectations in the past.

    London Editor Denis Staunton has the full report.  

  • 08:39

    Speaking on RTE’s Moring Ireland in the last hour, Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee said Theresa May understands that the backstop is like house insurance, “something that you hope to never have to use”.
    Ms McEntee said people need to keep calm and focus on getting a result.
    “It is important to allow Theresa May to engage. The atmosphere and tone last night was much more positive,” she said. “If there is hostility it is going to impact negotiations.”
    Ms McEntee said progress has been made, adding “I don't think anyone is trying to push the UK into anything, the task force is trying to work within parameters”.



  • 08:43

     The latest from Political Editor Pat Leahy in Brussels:

    Not a late dinner for EU leaders last night – all wrapped up pretty early. Pan fried mushrooms, turbot and sorbet, we are told. British Prime Minister Theresa May retired to the British embassy where she also had fish for dinner, not to be outdone. We will bring you news of exactly what kind of fish was consumed when we have it.
    Taoiseach Leo Varadkar went into Council headquarters this morning without speaking to the press, though he will do a formal press conference later in the day. He’s currently meeting the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani.

  • 08:45
  • 08:49
  • 08:53

     A recap on the lead story in today’s Irish Times.  

    British Prime Minister Theresa May failed to persuade EU leaders that Brexit negotiations have made enough progress to justify calling a summit next month to finalise an agreement.
    EU sources told The Irish Times that, after hearing a 15-minute presentation from the British PM, the leaders were not planning to organise a special summit.
    If decisive progress in made in the next few weeks, however, the leaders agreed that they would convene such a meeting.

  • 08:54
  • 09:05

    British Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed she is ready to consider a delay of “a matter of months” in Britain’s final departure from the EU in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
    However, she said she does not expect any extension of the so-called “transition” to Brexit to be needed, because she still hopes to conclude a deal on the UK’s future trade and security relationship with the EU by its scheduled end-date of December 2020.
    Arriving for the second day of the European Council summit, the British PM made clear she would accept an extension only as a means to ensure there was no hard border in Ireland if it proved impossible to implement the future partnership by the end of 2020.
    “A further idea that has emerged — and it is an idea at this stage — is to create an option to extend the implementation period for a matter of months, and it would only be for a matter of months,” she said.
    “But the point is that this is not expected to be used, because we are working to ensure that we have that future relationship in place by the end of December 2020.
    “I’m clear that it is possible to do that and that is what we are working for. In those circumstances, there would be no need for any proposal of this sort and I’m clear that I expect the implementation period to end at the end of December 2020.”

  • 09:09

    Meanwhile the problems facing Theresa May at home remain all too clear, particularly on the contentious area of the backstop, the measure intended as a guarantee that there will be no hard Border in Ireland.
    In a letter to the Daily Telegraph (where else?) Boris Johnson and David Davis have warned that voters will not forgive Theresa May if she “surrenders” to Brussels in the Brexit negotiations. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, they claim her plans for future relations with the European Union are less popular than the poll tax and call on her to “deliver the Brexit which people voted for”, according to a PA report.
    It was signed by former Cabinet ministers Davis, Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson and Priti Patel, as well as Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the Conservative European Research Group of Brexiteer Tories.
    The letter,states: “We urge you to make clear that you will not bind the UK into the purgatory of perpetual membership of the EU’s customs union, whether by a backstop or any other route.”
    It adds: “Talk of either a UK or a Northern Irish backstop is inimical to our status as a sovereign nation state. Both are unnecessary: indeed they are a trap being set by the EU which it is vital we do not fall into.”

  • 09:11
  • 09:15

    The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has hit out at British Prime Minister Theresa May.

    In a statement published this morning, Mr Khan said: "This summit was supposed to be the final chance to agree a Brexit deal – but due to the appalling incompetence and infighting of Theresa May’s Government there is still a huge risk of no deal at all.

    “After two chaotic years, the Prime Minister can’t even agree a Brexit position within her own party, let alone with the EU.

    “The options on the table are now limited to Theresa May’s proposed bad deal for Britain or no deal at all – both of which would be disastrous for London’s economy and would limit opportunities for the next generation.

    “I held regular meetings with former Brexit secretary David Davis and have reached out to his successor Dominic Raab to discuss London’s needs in the Brexit negotiations. Extremely disappointingly and despite being in the role for three months, he has so far failed to meet me.

    “The ongoing chaos, infighting and ineptitude shows exactly why it’s so crucial that the British public get the opportunity to have their say on the final deal – which is what thousands of people will call for this weekend as they march through the streets of London.”

  • 09:19

    The latest from Political Editor Pat Leahy in Brussels:
    Doors have now closed on the Council chamber and the meeting has begun. Pictures from inside showed French President Emmanuel Macron deep in conversation with Jean Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Dutch PM Mark Rutte.

  • 09:29
  • 09:37

    Back in Dublin Cliff Taylor writes:  Deal or no deal? We aren’t a lot clearer after last night’s dinner, when Theresa May tried to strike an optimistic tone but the other leaders found her presenting nothing new.  
    To get over the optics, the language from the EU included the nicely fudged phrase that they “stand ready” to call a special summit in November to sign off a deal. However, as of now the summit has not been scheduled because not enough progress has been made, and Michel Barnier, who measures his words carefully, says “much more time” is needed to strike a deal. The two sides are still talking, however, and there was no big row at yesterday’s dinner.

    The only new idea to emerge is that the transition period, the standstill after the UK leaves the EU, could be extended. Under the draft withdrawal agreement, it is due to end in December 2020.
    The idea is that an extension would give more time and space to negotiate new trading arrangements after the UK leaves and thus allow Theresa May to argue that the controversial backstop – the insurance policy to guarantee there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland no matter what – is unlikely to be needed.
    The UK prime minister initially seemed to respond positively to the idea of a one year extension to the transistion. However this morning she sis rowing back, saying it is “only an option”, was not likely to be needed and would only last for a “matter of months.”
    This follows the usual apoplectic reaction from Brexiteers, who fear the extension of transition will just delay the uncoupling from the EU which they crave.
    Again, it all shows the difficulty for the UK prime minister of negotiating a deal that will be acceptable to enough MPs at home and get through the House of Commons.

  • 09:43
  • 09:47
  • 09:51

    France does not rule out a possible lengthening of Britain's post-Brexit transition period if it helps advance negotiations with London, but any extension would come with conditions, an official in President Emmanuel Macron's office said on Thursday.
    “It's one of the possible options. It's neither a firm proposal from the EU 27 nor a formal request from the UK,” the Elysee Palace official said.
    “It's something we shouldn't rule out. If we were to go in that direction, it would come with a certain number of conditions.”

  • 09:54
  • 09:57
  • 09:59

    Back in Dublin, Cliff Taylor writes:

    Irish business is hoping that a withdrawal deal can be done sooner rather than later and the no deal risk finally “taken off the table”, IBEC’s head of policy Fergal O’Brien told us this morning.
    Businesses are already incurring significant costs as they have had to prepare themselves just in case there is not a deal, he said.
    Significant sums have been spent in the last six months.  He is optimistic, given the risks for all sides, that a deal will emerge sooner rather than later.
    The other issue for business is that the transition period after the UK leaves needs to be longer than planned to allow new trading arrangements to be finalised and businesses to prepare for these.
    The transition, or standstill period, after the UK leaves is due to last until the end of 2020, but many businesses will need longer to prepare, he warns, particularly as it will take time for the shape of the new trading arrangements to emerge from negotiations.

  • 10:04
  • 10:06

    A businessman recognised as Ireland’s Entrepreneur of the Year 12 months ago, has said his company will be laying off workers in Britain as a result of Brexit.
    Harry Hughes, chief executive of Co Mayo safety workware producer Portwest, said the company took action after Britain announced 14 months ago that it would be leaving the EU customs union.
    Ronan McGreevy has the full story.

  • 10:13

    British prime minister Theresa May called for unity within her government ahead of the EU summit on Wednesday, telling ministers that she can still achieve a good deal on Brexit.
    Ms May told her cabinet that she would never support a deal that creates a customs border in the Irish Sea or leaves Britain trapped indefinitely in a backstop arrangement.
    London Editor Denis Staunton has the full report.

  • 10:20
  • 10:27

    Theresa May  has confirmed she is ready to consider an extension of the transition period but only by “a matter of months”.

    However, arriving at a  European Council  Summit in  Brussels  on Thursday, the British prime minister said she does not expect any extension to be needed, because she still hopes to conclude a deal on the UK’s future trade and security relationship with the EU by its scheduled end-date of December 2020.
    “A further idea that has emerged — and it is an idea at this stage — is to create an option to extend the implementation period for a matter of months, and it would only be for a matter of months,” she said. Here’s the report from this morning.

  • 10:31

    Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has put out a statement this morning insisting the Tories aren’t going to use Brexit “to rebuild Britain”.
    “They want to use it to slash rights and protections and turbocharge their bankers-first market free-for-all,” he said.
    “We are leaving the EU, but we will not support a deal cobbled together by a divided and chaotic Tory government if it’s going to make life tougher for millions of people.”

  • 10:40

    Political Editor Pat Leahy spoke to a senior EU official about last night’s dinner in Brussels. He says:

    May spoke for 15 minutes. There were no reactions or questions as planned. Then EU leaders had their article 50 meeting for two hours, approximately.
    About half of the members states spoke – also Barnier, Juncker, Tusk.

    Question: Can you tell us about the mood of the meeting when May spoke – was there eye rolling, or disappointment?
    “No, no, no eye-rolling, this is very serious, of course not. It’s an important and critical moment  ...We have not seen the progress that we would like to have seen at this stage. The leaders took note of that and it’s for Barnier to take the talks forward now."

    On an extension of transition:

    “My understanding is that she [Theresa May] said that the UK would be ready to consider the idea of extending the transition period.”

    What was the leaders’ reaction?

    “But the leaders are not the negotiators – they were not discussing any particular comments. They reaffirmed if you like, the mandate that Barnier has and encouraged him to take the negotiations forward.”

    Question: would an extension mean extra money [from the UK]?

    “In general there was no detailed discussion of what that would mean. Because this is really for the negotiators . . . I have seen no official proposal on anything like that, the extension. The idea was put up in Prime Minister May’s speech yesterday but it’s not something that has been discussed among the leaders, at least not at the level of the European Council. And it was not discussed yesterday either.

    “There were two elements of the discussion. One was Barnier gave his assessment about the regrettable state of play where we are, and also what that means in terms of the timelines for the November summit which seems not to be coming now. And then the second part was on the preparedness, where Juncker gave a short update.

    “Clearly there was a feeling that we all need to step up further preparedness for all scenarios, including a no-deal.

    “In a way there is a certain difference of where we are now.

    “Where prime minister May has to a certain extent a positive assessment of where we are, focuses on the considerable progress that has been made on a number of issues, and emphasises that a deal is within reach.

    “Where I feel the collective feeling among the 27 I would say is somewhat more sceptical and notes the lack of progress, or at least the lack of agreement at this stage.”

    Question: Was there a discussion of Theresa May’s difficulty at home?

    “No, no. Because it’s not for the EU 27.”

  • 10:47
    A look at last night's dinner menu from the EU summit...
  • 10:49
  • 10:56

    Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament has told a press conference:

    “We have to have an agreement on the backstop . . . when it comes to the transition period, there has been mention of a third year – we would be in favour of that.”

  • 11:07
    Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns points to a letter sent to Theresa May in June by 34 Brexiter MPs, setting out their “red lines”, one of which was not accepting any extension of the transition period.
  • 11:11

    Europe Editor Patrick Smyth reports from Brussels:  

    Ireland will be hugely damaged if the UK “crashes out of the EU”, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson warns.
    Although Irish and British officials say they have no intention of recreating a hard border in the event of a no-deal, she said that “everyone knows that would result in a hardening of the Border”.
    Northern Ireland needs to be given a “special status” to remain in the EU, Ms Anderson says.

  • 11:17
    Julie Girling, a former Conservative MEP expelled from the party over her stance on Brexit, has said the move was “bullying tactics” to please the tabloids.
    She has told Sky News there is an “astonishing...civil war” going on in the party in Westminster, and it wanted to make her a “scapegoat” to appease the media.  
  • 11:18
  • 11:20
  • 11:29

    Conservative MP Nick Boles said the idea of prolonging the Brexit transition period is a “desperate last move”.
    “What it effectively does is it keeps us in everything in the EU … and we’re not in any sense leaving the EU,” he told BBC radio’s Today programme on Thursday morning, adding he believes the price for an extra transition year would add up to €18 billion.

  • 11:35

    There is some sympathy for extending the UK transition period by a year – but the UK would have to ask for it, writes Europe Editor Patrick Smyth.
    Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made clear in Brussels yesterday that it is neither a solution nor substitute for the backstop.  

  • 11:39

    Extending a so-called transition period after Britain leaves the European Union is an idea that has come up in Brexit negotiations in recent days, a senior British government official said on Thursday.
    While extending the transition period beyond December 2020 is an option, the government would not expect to have to implement such an extension as it wants to conclude a deal with the EU before then, the official said.
    "This is at a very early point, I think the key issue here is that we wouldn't intend ever for this extension period to be used," the official said. – Reporting from Reuters

  • 11:44

    Britain is considering other ways of making progress in Brexit negotiations with the European Union, not just a mooted extension to the transition period, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokeswoman told reporters on Thursday.
    “It's an idea at this stage, and there are others,” the spokeswoman said, when asked about the possibility of extending the transition period which was discussed on Wednesday by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels.

  • 11:54

    Conservative MP Jacob Rees Mogg has told Sky News extending the transition period would be a “poor attempt at kicking the can down the road”.

  • 12:03
  • 12:13

    A recap of the proceedings of the last 24 hours:  

    British Prime Minister Theresa May failed to persuade EU leaders that Brexit negotiations have made enough progress to justify calling a summit next month to finalise an agreement.
    EU sources told The Irish Times on Wednesday night that, after hearing a 15-minute presentation from the British PM, the leaders were not planning to organise a special summit.
    If decisive progress in made in the next few weeks, however, the leaders agreed that they would convene such a meeting.
    On Thursday morning, Ms May confirmed she is ready to consider a delay of “a matter of months” in Britain’s final departure from the EU in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland.
    However, she said she does not expect any extension of the so-called “transition” to Brexit to be needed, because she still hopes to conclude a deal on the UK’s future trade and security relationship with the EU by its scheduled end-date of December 2020.

  • 12:17
    Diane Dodds, an EU lawmaker from the DUP, said the extension did not ease her party's fears.
    "All very well, but this doesn't do anything to actually change the backstop...Therefore it does not address any concerns, it offers no reassurance," she said.  
  • 12:56

    Speaking to Euronews in Brussels, Nigel Farage has said extending the transition period would be a “very dangerous move”
    “The transition period was article 50. Article 50 was written as a two-year transition period,” he said.  
    “I was opposed to any extension beyond that date and I warned from day one, if you accept the principle of transition, it will slip and slip and slip and by accepting another year, not only does Ms May hand over another £20bn of UK taxpayers money, but we take transition almost up to the next general election, and the danger there is a different party wins the election and simply keeps us in the European Union, so it’s a very very dangerous move.”

  • 13:02
  • 13:08
    Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament has said a backstop for Ireland that safeguards the Good Friday Agreement is essential.
  • 13:09
  • 13:19

    Our Political Editor Pat Leahy has been speaking to more sources in Brussels about the EU summit dinner last night.
    He says: EU leaders were very keen to make the mood music better than Salzburg, which they realise was a mistake which they bear some responsibility for. But their view is clear: not enough progress was made.
    They reiterated their unanimous support for Barnier and asked him to continue to pursue a deal – which they believe is possible. Support for Barnier – whom the British Government have repeatedly tried to undermine through approaches to individual governments – was displayed by the unusual step of everyone banging the table at the end of his presentation.

  • 13:31

    British prime minister Theresa May told EU leaders in Brussels that she was ready to consider an extension by “a matter of months” of the transition period, which is currently due to stretch until December 2020.

    The proposal has sparked a fierce backlash from Brexiteers, with former Ukip leader Nigel Farage warning it “may mean we never leave at all”.
    Speaking in the House of Commons, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said it was “vital” that Britain leaves the EU at the “earliest possible point”.

    International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said: “The Prime Minister was very clear this morning in the statements she has given that she recognises the need to do things swiftly, not least because that is what the public expects.”

    Tory MP Nadine Dorries accused Ms May of “stalling”, and repeated her call for former Brexit secretary David Davis to replace her as leader.
    Conservative former minister Nick Boles — who is pushing for a “soft Brexit” move to temporary membership of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) — warned Ms May is losing the confidence of her party.

    He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the EU was demanding “humiliating concessions” because the PM’s Brexit plans fail to fix the problem of the Irish border.
    “I’m afraid she is losing the confidence now of colleagues of all shades of opinion,” said Mr Boles.

    “They are close to despair at the state of this negotiation because there is a fear that both the Government and the European Union are trying to run out the clock, that they are trying to leave this so late that they can credibly say there is no alternative but a no-deal Brexit, and most people agree that would be chaos.
    “That is not an acceptable way for a leader of a government to behave.”

  • 13:35
  • 13:45

    Our Public Affairs Editor Simon Carswell reports:

    The British Irish Chamber of Commerce warned of “alarming risks” to business and trade from the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

    The chamber’s director general John McGrane said the impasse in negotiations was “deeply disconcerting” and had left companies in “an impossible place” to invest and plan “because they still don’t know what will happen” and that they may have to prepare for a hard Brexit.

    “The last few months we have seen a significantly greater appreciation that there is a risk of a no-deal outcome. Lots of people who wouldn’t have conceived that, or who were blindly optimistic, are thinking they could be wrong. It would be catastrophic for many impacted by it,” Mr McGrane said

    He said it was “encouraging” that a two-part proposition - an extension of the standstill post-Brexit transition period and the two-tier backstop solution to avoid a hard Irish border – could lead to a EU-UK deal, but there would have to be much work on “word-crafting” in the run-up to the next scheduled summit of EU leaders in December.

    “We don’t have a form of words in any of the proposition that would enable a withdrawal agreement to be signed. That is leaving us with the no-deal potential looming with Brexit just months away,” he said.

  • 13:55
    Conservative MP Nadine Dorries has said if Theresa May is asking for a longer transition period she is “stalling” and it’s time for her to “stand aside”.
  • 14:03
  • 14:07
  • 14:12
  • 14:22

    With British prime minister  Theresa May  facing a backlash in London over a mooted plan to lengthen the  Brexit  transition period from two years to three, senior Irish and EU sources have played down the relevance of UK domestic politics even as negotiations are set to continue over the coming weeks.
    While EU Governments understand the challenges Mrs May faces in her party and parliament, senior sources say that the EU cannot have its red lines defined by Ms May’s domestic difficulties.
    Political Editor Pat Leahy has the latest from Brussels.

  • 14:25
  • 14:41
    Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg seems to think putting Margaret Thatcher’s picture on a £50 note would be a “timely reminder” of how to negotiate with the EU.
  • 14:44
  • 14:52

    Theresa May might have won some indulgence from EU leaders by sounding open to new ideas but the proposal for an extended transition has alarmed her Brexiteer backbenchers writes London Editor Denis Staunton.

  • 15:35
    Donald Tusk says that today "we are in a much better mood than after Salzburg", adding that he feels a deal seems closer now, although this might just be an "emotional" feeling.
  • 15:57