May and European Union leaders upbeat over Brexit deal despite delay

Dominic Raab

The mood among pro-Brexit Conservative was summed up by Simon Clark, who told the prime minister directly that she had as "failed to reassure" MPs that the United Kingdom will definitely leave the customs union by December 2020, amid fears that the United Kingdom could be wedded to the EU's customs arrangements for years and years to come.

As for the future relationship with Britain, she said "it must always be clear that, although we want to avoid hardship, ultimately the difference between membership in the European Union and a partnership with the European Union as a third state must and will become clear".

And there is talk that a transition period for the U.K.to adapt to its new status as a third country could be extended by a year.

"As I see it, the only source of hope for a deal for now is the goodwill and determination on both sides", Mr Tusk told a Brussels press conference.

They demanded Parliament get the final say on any deal brokered with Brussels - and have the power to send the UK's Brexit negotiators back to the table to try again.

At the start of a summit that had previously been earmarked as the deadline for a breakthrough, both sides admitted the deadlock would take more time to untangle and said they were willing to extend the post-Brexit transition until the end of 2021.

But Brussels feels the plan will need such complex policing and checking that it can not be sorted in time for agreement this month.

After her Chequers plan for Brexit was humiliatingly rejected at the last European Union summit in Salzburg last month and efforts to seal a last-minute deal foundered last weekend over the EU's demand for a "backstop" to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

The EU made clear there had not been sufficient progress to trigger the expected "special" summit in November to finalise a deal.

In a bid to defuse the problem, the European Union is searching for language that would convince the British that the backstop would never be used.

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"We need much more time and we will continue to work in the next weeks, calmly and patiently", he added.

The Taoiseach said Ireland could look favourably on such a plan which would be helpful to everyone concerned as the implications of Brexit could require more time.

But both London and Brussels have pledged to avoid any physical infrastructure, or "hard border", anxious that it could upset the delicate peace process that ended decades of violence between Protestant supporters of British rule over the province, and Irish Catholics nationalists, who believe in a united Ireland.

Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite claimed the Prime Minister didn't have a "strong mandate".

"I'm convinced that if we as a Government stand together and stand firm, we can achieve this", she said. "How do we meet them?'"

At a key session with 27 fellow European leaders in Brussels, the Prime Minister refused to rule out extending the so-called "transition" period from 21 months to a full three years.

But, asked about his pro-EU stance, the former Lib Dem leader offered a passionate defence. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said the need for progress was "urgent".

The attendees were Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, and perhaps most worrying for the prime minister, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab.

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".

May told the meeting: "We've shown we can do hard deals together constructively".

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