LONDON (Reuters) - Britain could accept extending the post-Brexit transition period by a few months if the European Union drops its proposals for a so-called Northern Irish backstop, Britain’s Brexit minister Dominic Raab said on Sunday.
Talks between Britain and the EU have stalled largely over a disagreement on the backstop - an insurance policy to ensure there will be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland if a future trading relationship is not agreed in time.
The Brexit transition, or implementation period, in which Britain would retain EU rules and so avoid border problems with Ireland, is due to end in December 2020.
“If we need a bridge from the end of the implementation period to the future relationship ... I am open minded about using a short extension of the implementation period,” Raab told BBC TV.
“It is an obvious possible route as long as it is short, perhaps a few months, and secondly that we know how we get out of it and obviously it has to solve the backstop issue so that that falls away then as a possibility.”
In an interview published on Sunday, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier stood firm on the need for checks on goods shipped from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland after Brexit, but insisted this would not amount to a new border.
Britain says the EU’s backstop proposal of keeping Northern Ireland in its customs union is unacceptable as it would create a border in the Irish Sea. It favours a backstop in which the whole of Britain would stay inside the customs union but says it must be time-limited period or have a clear exit mechanism.
France’s Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau said the EU was still waiting for “a workable solution” from London.
“We have to have a definite answer, or at least no temporary measures which disappear and we don’t know what to do after that,” she told BBC TV.
The possibility of extending the transition, keeping Britain under EU governance with no say in it, is highly unpopular with hardline supporters of Brexit and after Prime Minister Theresa May signalled it as a possibility this week, her critics used the Sunday newspapers to step up their attacks.
The Sunday Times reported an ally of former Brexit minister David Davis, who some see as an interim leader if May goes, as saying the British leader was entering “the killing zone”, while it quoted an unnamed possible successor as saying “assassination is in the air”.
The Mail on Sunday reported members of parliament from May’s Conservatives said she was in the “last chance saloon” and should “bring her own noose” when she addresses Conservative MPs at a meeting in parliament on Wednesday.
A vote of no confidence in May would be triggered if 48 Conservative’s MPs submit letters to the chairman of the party’s so-called “1922 committee” of backbenchers demanding such a vote. The Sunday Times said 46 had now been sent.
“We are at the end stage of the negotiation. I think it is understandable there are jitters on all sides of this debate, we need to hold our nerve, the end is in sight in terms of a good deal ... I think colleagues should wait and see what that looks like,” said Raab. “Now is the time to play for the team.”
Raab said he did not know when he would next be going to Brussels to negotiate, but a deal needed to be done by the end of November in order to get the legislation through parliament.
Opposition Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said that even if a deal was agreed before Christmas it may not last.
“This idea that there will be a settlement, the issue will be over,” he said. “What we are going to see is even if there is a deal the Tory (Conservative) Party will try to rip it up next year ... they will not stop fighting about this.”
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky