Theresa May insisted Britain will have an ‘independent trade policy’ after 2020 today as she denied caving into the EU over Brexit.
The Prime Minister faced a backlash from Eurosceptics after it emerged her ‘war Cabinet’ has signed off on an extension as part of a ‘backstop’ that would avoid a hard Irish border if no other solutions are found.
She confirmed this evening that the UK would soon be putting forward its plans for a fallback option – but claimed the proposal would not prevent the UK striking trade deals with other countries.
The defiant stance came after Irish PM Leo Varakdar – who held talks with Mrs May at a summit in Sofia today – upped the pressure by warning that negotiations could collapse altogether unless there is movement on the border issue.
Speaking at a press conference in Macedonia, where she travelled after the EU gathering in Bulgaria, Mrs May repeated her pledge that the UK will leave the customs union in 2020
Mrs May seemed to be having a good time with Emmanuel Macron (left) and Angela Merkel (right) as they arrived for the summit in Sofia today
Theresa May (left) held talks with Irish PM Leo Varadkar (right) at the gathering of EU leaders in Bulgaria today
Speaking at a press conference in Macedonia, where she travelled after the EU gathering in Bulgaria, Mrs May repeated her pledge that the UK will leave the existing customs union in 2020.
She insisted that meant there would be an ‘independent trade policy’.
‘In December, when the joint report was published between the European Union and the United Kingdom we set out clearly options in relation to the commitment that we have given for no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland,’ she said.
‘We expect that to be dealt with through the overall relationship we have with the European Union, but there were then two further levels of options including a final fallback option.
‘The commission published a fallback option which was not acceptable to us and we will be bringing forward our own proposal for that fallback option in due course.’
WHEN WILL BRITAIN BE OUT OF THE EU?
Britain triggered Article 50 on March 29, 2017, starting a two year process for leaving the EU:
March 2018: Outline transition deal agreed, running for about two years
June 2018: EU summit that Brussels says should consider broad principles of a future trade deal.
October 2018: Political agreement on the future partnership due to be reached
Early 2019: Major votes in Westminster and Brussels to ratify the deal
March 29, 2019: Article 50 expires, Britain leaves the EU. Transition is expected to keep everything the same for about two years
December 31, 2020: Transition expected to come to an end and the new relationship – if it has been agreed – should kick in
The issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has emerged as the crunch point in talks with the EU.
A divorce deal struck by Theresa May before Christmas included a backstop that if no other solutions were found to avoid a hard border, the UK would stay aligned to EU rules in key areas.
However, a legal text of the document produced by Brussels since then has been condemned as unacceptable by the PM as it would effectively draw a red line down the Irish sea and split the UK.
The Brexit War Cabinet session this week focused on ways to resolve the standoff, amid threats from the EU to halt wider trade negotiations unless the border issue can be guaranteed.
Ministers have signed off on a counter-proposal for a ‘backstop’ that would UK effectively keep the UK in a customs union beyond the end of a mooted transitional period in December 2020.
To soothe concerns of Brexiteers, it would include a ‘sunset’ clause ensuring Britain does leave in the end. There would also need to be a major concession from Brussels that the UK could implement trade deals with other countries during the extension period.
Senior Whitehall sources stressed that the plan was a fallback, and not ‘something we ever expect to happen’.
One source said: ‘It’s about providing an alternative to the EU’s border down the Irish Sea.’
Mr Varadkar and EU negotiator Michel Barnier have been taking a tough line, and the Dublin premier stepped up his rhetoric again today.
The row erupted as the PM attended an EU summit in Bulgaria today, meeting commission president Jean-Claude Juncker among others (pictured)
Mrs May tucked in to breakfast with her fellow EU leaders as the summit got under way today
Mrs May (left) and Mrs Merkel (right) arrived together for the informal EU summit with West Balkan counties in Bulgaria today
The PM went to Macedonia to meet counte