Britain, EU decide to take some time in getting Brexit right

A pro-EU demonstrator holds up an EU flag to oncoming traffic outside the Palace of Westminster as the British government holds a cabinet meeting on Brexit inside 10 Downing Street, London, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. The Brexit agreement must be sealed in the coming weeks to leave enough time for relevant parliaments to ratify it, but talks continue, particularly over how to ensure no physical border dividing the UK from Northern Ireland and the EU member state of Ireland. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, hugs Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, as they meet in Brussels, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 when European leaders meet to negotiate on terms of Britain's divorce from the European Union. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
A demonstrator protests in front of parliament in London, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May will head to Brussels later Wednesday to meet with European Union leaders for what is widely billed as a "moment of truth" Brexit summit. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
European Council President Donald Tusk touches his eyebrow after delivering a statement during a joint news conference following a Tripartite Social Summit roundtable at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session in parliament, in London, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. May will head to Brussels later Wednesday for a meeting with European Union leaders for what is widely billed as a "moment of truth" Brexit summit. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech on the Europe-Britain 'Brexit' negotiations and the upcoming meeting of European leaders in Brussels during a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
A woman touches an European Union flag during an anti Brexit protest outside the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. European Union leaders are converging on Brussels for what had been billed as a "moment of truth" Brexit summit but which now holds little promise for a breakthrough. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, arrive for a photo opportunity as they meet in Brussels, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 when European leaders meet to negotiate on terms of Britain's divorce from the European Union. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
A demonstrator protests in front of parliament in London, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May will head to Brussels later Wednesday to meet with European Union leaders for what is widely billed as a "moment of truth" Brexit summit. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A woman holds a Britain flag as she shouts slogans during an anti Brexit protest outside the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. European Union leaders are converging on Brussels for what had been billed as a "moment of truth" Brexit summit but which now holds little promise for a breakthrough. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

BRUSSELS — Leaders from the European Union and Britain shrugged off a weekend negotiating debacle and previous deadlines Wednesday, giving themselves several more weeks to clinch a friendly divorce deal ahead of their separation.

After the EU insisted for months that the Wednesday summit was a key meeting to get a deal, its Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said "we need much time, much more time and we continue to work in the next weeks" with his British counterpart.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also spoke about "working intensively over the next days and weeks" to achieve agreement that avoids a no-deal departure from the bloc on March 29 that could create chaos at the borders and in the economy. A deal must be sealed soon so parliaments have time to give their verdict on it.

Underscoring the newfound sense of non-urgency, Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz of Austria, which holds the rotating EU presidency, even spoke of the "coming weeks and months" to get a deal and sought to impose a soothing calm.

"There's no need to dramatize matters. It's always the case with negotiations, that in the end there are challenges," he said.

May was preparing to address other EU leaders one day after European Council President Donald Tusk implored her to present new ideas for resolving the tricky problem of how to keep the land border between the Republic of Ireland and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland friction-free once Britain no longer is an EU member.

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 divorce negotiations to a standstill. EU leaders dismissed May's most recent proposal as unworkable.

But when the prime minister was asked in the House of Commons earlier Wednesday whether her government's blueprint for an amicable divorce was dead, May replied: "The answer is no."

The summit in Brussels had long been seen as the "moment of truth" in the two-year Brexit process. But after urgent talks on the Irish border ended Sunday without producing a breakthrough, Wednesday's gathering looked more like a therapeutic bonding session than an occasion to celebrate.

The timeline for a deal has slipped into November, or even December, when another EU summit is scheduled.

"Today there will be no breakthrough," said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. She said 2 1/2 years after Britain's Brexit referendum, the country had still not explained clearly how it wants to leave the EU.

"Today, we do not know what they want," she said. "They do not know themselves what they really want. That is the problem."

At present the two sides are proposing that Britain remains inside the EU single market and is still bound by its rules from the time it leaves the bloc in March until December 2020, to give time for new trade relations to be set up.

Many suspect that will not be enough time, which has led the EU to demand a "backstop" to ensure there are no customs posts or other controls along the currently invisible border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

And there is talk that a transition period for the U.K. to adapt to its new status as a third country could be extended by a year.

Britain says it has not asked for an extension, but May has not yet come up with proposals for unblocking the Irish border logjam. She is hemmed in by pro-Brexit members of her Conservative Party, who oppose any more compromises with the bloc, and by her parliamentary allies in Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, who insist a solution can't include customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

___

Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this story.

People also read these

Austrian authorities seeking Hitler double seen...

Feb 11, 2017

US-AUSTRIA-HITLER:Austrian authorities seeking Hitler double seen around birthplace

Dahlmeier powers to third gold medal at biathlon...

Feb 15, 2017

US-BIATHLON-WORLD:Dahlmeier powers to third gold medal at biathlon Worlds

Alpine skiing: Hirscher wins his first giant...

Feb 17, 2017

US-ALPINE-WORLD-MEN:Alpine skiing: Hirscher wins his first giant slalom gold

Biathlon: Dahlmeier wins fourth title with relay...

Feb 17, 2017

US-BIATHLON-WORLD:Biathlon: Dahlmeier wins fourth title with relay gold in Germany

Twin panda cubs at Vienna Zoo go exploring in...

Feb 28, 2017

US-WILDLIFE-PANDA-AUSTRIA:Twin panda cubs at Vienna Zoo go exploring in first outdoor outing

Sign up now!