British Prime Minister Theresa May is still hopeful of negotiating a withdrawal deal from the EU.British Prime Minister Theresa May and other EU leaders have voiced renewed confidence that they can secure a Brexit deal, just days after talks came to a grinding to a halt.
Less than six months before Britain quits the EU in its biggest shift in policy for more than 40 years, the two sides are at odds over how to deal with their only land border, between the British province of Northern Ireland and Ireland.
But while the mood at a two-day summit in Brussels was more upbeat, there was little movement from either side on how to resolve the border issue, with EU officials and diplomats saying May had offered nothing new to unlock the talks.
For now, however, both sides seemed to be happy to kick any solution to that problem a little bit further down the road.
“We are all working, we’re intensifying the work on these issues that remain,” May said after a two-day summit in Brussels had ended.
May declined to put any fixed date on the possible extension to the UK’s transition period, which she has said could last “a matter of months” into 2021.
It was a marked change of tone since May’s Brexit minister Dominic Raab left Brussels on Sunday after the more than year-long Brexit talks broke down over the border issue.
The problem centres on a so-called “backstop” – an insurance policy to ensure there will be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, a former focal point for sectarian tensions, if a future trading relationship is not in place in time.
May faces a rebellion from her parliamentary partners, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which has threatened to vote against her government’s budget if she concedes to the EU’s demands over the backstop.
They say the proposal would tear Northern Ireland from the rest of Britain.
But EU Council President Donald Tusk described the mood as much better than the one at the last summit in Salzburg, which ended in acrimony.
And Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Commission president, said: “It will be done.”
But the Northern Irish question still has to be overcome. May expressed hope that it could be all but negotiated away by the two sides agreeing a close future partnership, which would ensure borders that are as frictionless as possible.
The EU’s leaders were more circumspect. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar summed it up by saying “big gaps” remained between the two sides “both in terms of the shape of the future relationship and also the protocol on Northern Ireland and Ireland and the backstop”.