Too early to know cost of Brexit transition extension - minister

European Council president Donald Tusk at a media conference

He also told reporters that it would be up to Mrs May to decide whether she had to defy opposition from her unionist Northern Irish allies and agree to the EU's proposed backstop, which would potentially create trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.

The goal of the implementation, or transition, period is to allow businesses time to prepare, to avoid disrupting holidaymakers and to implement worldwide security measures.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar summed it up by saying "big gaps" remained between the two sides "both in terms of the shape of the future relationship and also the protocol on Northern Ireland and Ireland and the backstop".

"A no-deal would be unsafe for Britain and the European Union", Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, has told the EU summit in Brussels.

British prime minister Theresa May Wednesday evening (17 October) told European Union leaders she is ready to consider extending the Brexit transition period to three years.

Juncker and May, however, remain hopeful that the Brexit deadlock could be broken and an agreement reached. "It's a good idea".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the leaders pledged on Wednesday to do "everything to find a solution".

"Where there is a will there should be a way", she said on Thursday.

"We have shown we can do hard deals together constructively", the PM said. "Where there's a will, there should be a way, and normally there is a way".

Meanwhile, his Sinn Fein counterpart Michelle O'Neill said Prime Minister Theresa May had refused to hold a joint meeting with the leaders of Northern Ireland's main anti-Brexit parties.

"We are working to ensure that we have that future relationship in place by the end of December 2020", May said as she arrived at European Union headquarters in Brussels on Thursday for meetings on migration, security and other issues.

There was a glimmer of progress around a proposal to extend a post-Brexit transition period to give more time for a new U.K. -EU trade deal - but that is fiercely opposed by May's pro-Brexit critics at home.

Officials noted May had failed to respond to a call by EU President Donald Tusk for "concrete proposals" of her own to move the talks forward, and said more progress was needed. He acknowledged that "it may be a more emotional impression than a rational one, but emotions matter, also in politics".

In Brussels, the expectation is if there is a deal, it won't be ready to be signed off until the European Council's December summit, leaving parliaments there and in Westminster just weeks to scrutinise and vote on it.

"We are talking in a matter of months, we are not talking in a matter of years", he said.

The UK prime minister is under pressure to break key Brexit promises in order to get a deal.

But as the summit came to a close on Thursday evening, it was rumours that the PM could agree to extend the UK's Brexit transition period beyond 2020 in a bid to secure a deal that sparked fury from Tory MPs.

However, even if Brussels commits to May's preferred UK-wide customs union backstop in the Brexit deal, there will nearly certainly be a backstop keeping Northern Ireland in the single market and customs union.

But with talks at an impasse, the bloc has suggested extending that period to provide more time to strike an agreement that ensures the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains friction-free.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the European Union is demanding "humiliating concessions" because the PM's Brexit plans fail to fix the problem of the Irish border.

Both the European Union and Britain now think there's merit in keeping the United Kingdom inside the bloc's full membership rules for longer after it formally leaves, with an option to extend the 21-month transition period that's due to end in December 2020.

He added: 'More than two years after the referendum, the Tories still have no credible plan to deliver Brexit.

Tusk advised May that "creative" thinking from Britain was required to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, the issue that has brought Brexit negotiations to a standstill.

"I really need to say though that any extension to the transition period couldn't be a substitute to the backstop, it would still need to have that". Pro-Brexit politicians in the United Kingdom saw it as an attempt to bind the country to the bloc indefinitely.

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