Brussels, Oct 17 (AFP) British Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday that "now is the time" to make a Brexit deal happen, as she arrived for a summit with EU leaders seeking to unblock stalled divorce talks.
May will pitch her vision of how to save the talks on Britain's exit from the union on March 29 to European leaders left frustrated by a dramatic breakdown in negotiations on Sunday.
Before the summit, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a stern warning that Europe must be prepared for a no-deal Brexit but as she arrived pledged to "try everything to find an agreement".
Negotiations are at an impasse over the issue of a legal backstop to keep open the border between British Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, an EU member.
May faces a battle to find a solution that is acceptable to both the EU and hardline Brexit supporters in her own deeply-divided Conservative party, but she insisted that a deal is achievable and that "now is the time to make it happen".
“I believe everybody around the table wants to get a deal. By working intensively and closely we can achieve that deal,” she told reporters as she arrived for the summit.
Ahead of the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk had urged May to offer new "concrete ideas on how to break the impasse".
Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite -- speaking bluntly but reflecting a widely-shared view -- poured cold water on hopes of major developments on Wednesday, saying "today there will be no breakthrough".
"The main thing we would like to hear and see is (the clear) position of (the) UK -- what really they want. Today we do not know what they want. They do not know themselves what they want," she said.
But French President Emmanuel Macron -- who held an unexpected one-on-one with May before the summit dinner -- struck a positive note, saying "we are not so far" from a deal but cautioning that "now we must accelerate the work".
Neither side has shown much sign of flexibility, but EU negotiator Michel Barnier is willing to add a year to the 21-month post Brexit transition period -- taking it to the end of 2021, two diplomats said on condition of anonymity
The idea would be to give more time to negotiate a deal on future relations and find a formula to defuse the Irish border question.
Barnier said "we need time, we need much more time" for talks as he arrived to brief leaders, vowing to work "calmly and patiently" for a deal in the coming weeks.
Even the choreography of Wednesday's summit opening highlights British isolation.
After one-on-one meetings with Tusk, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, May will brief her 27 European colleagues before leaving the EU leaders to discuss Brexit over dinner without her.
Tusk has made it clear that if May and Barnier do not signal concrete progress towards a draft deal he will not call a November summit to sign it.
Instead, the matter could either be pushed back to December or -- more dramatically -- the EU could use the November weekend to meet on preparations for a “no-deal” Brexit.
Previously, both sides had agreed that Britain crashing out of the Union on March 29 next year with neither a divorce agreement nor a road-map to future ties would be an economic and diplomatic disaster.
But with the row over the Irish border, fears of a debacle are mounting. To solve the Irish question, Britain has proposed staying aligned to the EU's customs rules until a wider trade deal can be signed that avoids the need for any frontier checks.
But May's own eurosceptic Conservative MPs are demanding this "backstop" arrangement be time-limited, something the EU will not accept.
May said the EU was also insisting on its own "backstop" in case the London proposal did not work, which would see Northern Ireland alone stay aligned with the bloc's customs union and single market.
She says this would threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom -- and it is strongly opposed by her Northern Irish allies from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who provide her with crucial support in parliament. (AFP) KUNKUN10172353NNNN.
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