BRUSSELS: British Prime Minister Theresa May told EU leaders Thursday that securing a deal on the post-Brexit transition period had created a “new dynamic” to now tackle the toughest questions of trade and Ireland.
British and EU negotiators this week agreed the terms of a 21-month transition period intended to smooth the UK’s withdrawal from the bloc starting in March 2019, paving the way for talks to begin on the future bilateral partnership.
“We have the chance, now, to create a new dynamic in the talks to work together to explore workable solutions – in Northern Ireland, in our future security cooperation, and in order to ensure the future prosperity of all our people,” May told a summit dinner in Brussels, according to her office.
“This is an opportunity it is our duty to take and to enter into with energy and ambition.”
May was due to leave Brussels after the dinner, leaving the other 27 EU leaders to meet without her on Friday to formally agree the transition deal.
They will also approve guidelines for the next round of talks, which will include the thorny issue of the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and EU member Ireland.
All sides have pledged to avoid any return to physical customs checks, to avoid upsetting the fragile peace in the region.
The EU and UK have agreed a “backstop” that Northern Ireland would remain part of the EU’s customs union if there is no better idea, but London is deeply opposed to this.
“Once we move on to the stage of being able to talk about the future partnership, that is where we believe the solution to the Irish border will be found,” a senior British official said.
“It will be a solution in terms of our entire relationship with the EU.”
“We haven’t been able to have those conversations in the first phase of the talks, we are now moving onto a stage where we can.”
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who met May on the sidelines of the summit earlier Thursday, said he envisaged a trading relationship that was “so close that many of measures in the backstop may become unnecessary”.