Theresa May has insisted her Chequers Brexit plan is not dead as she travels to Brussels for a last-ditch effort to secure a deal with the EU.
Responding to a question from Jeremy Corbyn, the PM told the Commons: “He asked me if the Chequers plan is dead. The answer is no.”
Mrs May vowed to protect the “precious Union of the United Kingdom” as she defended her Brexit plan ahead of travelling to Brussels to address EU leaders as she battles to keep her hopes of securing a Brexit deal alive.
This morning it emerged that the EU is willing to extend the Brexit transition period, keeping Britain in the customs union for an extra year, according to Michel Barnier.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator outlined his offer during a meeting with member states on Tuesday evening, the Financial Times reported.
Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney confirmed the offer was on the table, telling BBC Radio 4: “The EU side is willing to allow more time in the transition period to agree an alternative solution to the backstop.
“What Michel Barnier is now suggesting is, let’s ensure the backstop is never likely to be used by creating the space and time for the UK and the EU to be able to negotiate UK-wide customs arrangements.”
The move would mean Britain stays in the customs union and single market for another 12 months beyond December 2020 – the scheduled end of the 21-month transition period.
Mr Barnier is said to be offering the extension to the transition period in return for the Prime Minister accepting a ‘two-tier’ backstop to avoid a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
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A diplomat told the Financial Times: “The extension is an example of how we could be flexible to help the British side if they want it.”
Downing Street has previously refused to rule out prolonging the transition period as part of negotiations, although the move would infuriate Brexiteers who want a clean and swift break from the EU.
Mrs May’s meeting with EU states today was supposed to give the green light for a special summit in November to finalise the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.
But after hastily arranged talks between Mr Barnier and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab broke up on Sunday without agreement, the negotiations are once again deadlocked.
European Council president Donald Tusk has warned that without new ‘concrete proposals’ from the British to break the logjam over the so-called Irish border ‘backstop’, further progress may be impossible.
However, with her party split Mrs May has little room to manoeuvre if she is to secure a deal which stands any chance of getting through Parliament.
Ahead of her visit to Brussels, Mrs May was able to secure the tentative backing of her Cabinet amid reports that some Brexiteer ministers were prepared to quit if she gave too much ground to Brussels.
During a marathon three-hour meeting on Tuesday, she insisted she would not accept an agreement on the backstop – intended to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic – which undermined the integrity of the UK or tied it indefinitely to EU customs arrangements.
The Prime Minister will briefly address the leaders of the EU 27 on Wednesday evening before they discuss the state of play in the Brexit negotiations over a working dinner.
Her official spokesman said she would take the opportunity to set out the areas where progress had been achieved while stressing her commitment to finding an agreement.
The spokesman said: “We want to secure a deal as quickly as possible. We think it is in the best interests of the UK and European Union to forge that deep future partnership.”
With hopes of a November summit fading, focus has turned to the next scheduled meeting of the European Council in December as the last chance to secure a deal and get it ratified by the UK and European parliaments before Britain leaves in March 2019.