May faces European Union leaders as Brexit talks stall

Mr Coveney was in Luxembourg today where he met with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

Mr Coveney was in Luxembourg today where he met with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

As U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May meets with European Union leaders in Brussels, a deal for her country's imminent departure from the trade bloc appears far out of reach.

British prime minister Theresa May is expected in Brussels for a hard meeting with European Union leaders on Wednesday evening (17 October) against a precarious backdrop in which negotiators failed to agree to a Brexit withdrawal deal earlier this week. May was also due to meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Council president Donald Tusk.

Britain leaves the European Union on March 29, but a deal must be sealed soon so parliaments have time to give their verdict.

"A single poll showing a seven-point lead doesn't necessarily mean much, the important thing is the underlying average and that appears to show the proportion of people who think Brexit is the wrong decision gradually creeping upwards".

According to Downing Street, Mrs May told the session that progress was being made in talks and she could get an outcome that honoured the referendum result and did not risk splitting the UK.

Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel said: "I'm able to come as often as we need to find a solution but I'm not here to just to come and have a cup of coffee and some shortbread".

But she acknowledged that differences remain over the key issue of the "backstop" arrangement to keep the Irish border open in the absence of a broader trade deal.

"Both sides want to get a deal done here, and I think we allow the negotiating teams to set the pace with a view to making recommendations, hopefully by mid-November, that a new summit is necessary to sign off on a final deal".

She told reporters that "most of the issues" in the withdrawal agreement have been resolved - apart from the Irish border.

European leaders are now discussing another summit in November - or even December before the holidays - to secure a possible accord.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said he was "cautiously optimistic" that an agreement would be made "in the coming weeks" on the Irish border.

European Council president Donald Tusk has warned that without new "concrete proposals" from the British to break the logjam over the Irish border backstop, further progress on a deal may be impossible.

Many continental officials involved in the process have said a longer transition may be needed to conclude a free trade deal anyway.

But when the prime minister was asked in the House of Commons earlier today whether her Government's blueprint for an amicable exit was dead, May replied: "The answer is no".

The choreography of Wednesday's summit opening emphasises British isolation.

Theresa May has hinted that the United Kingdom could extend the Brexit transition period to allow more time for trade talks, but dismayed leaders at a crunch Brussels summit by failing to offer any new ideas to break the impasse over the Irish border.

The UK, however, has said it would not accept anything that would see Northern Ireland treated differently and has instead proposed a temporary arrangement that would see the whole country remain under European Union customs regulations.

Earlier, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said a longer transition period was not a substitute for an agreement on the so-called Irish backstop, created to prevent the need for customs checks at the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic until a wider trade deal is done.

"We want to secure a deal as quickly as possible. We will continue the work in the next weeks calmly and patiently".

"I have invited Prime Minister May to address the EU27, giving the UK Government's assessment of the negotiations".

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