UK, EU agree to take more Brexit time after no-result summit

UK, EU agree to take more Brexit time after no-result summit
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) (Source: Francisco Seco)

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders gave themselves several more weeks — perhaps until the end of the year — to clinch a friendly divorce with Britain before their separation, after a Brexit summit Wednesday avoided any friction but also produced no tangible results.

British Prime Minister Theresa May provided none of the substantial new proposals that EU Council chief Donald Tusk had urged her to bring to the table, giving the 27 other leaders little more than a plea for goodwill.

"The last stage will need courage, trust and leadership on both sides," May told her EU counterparts.

Officials said there were hints that Britain might consider extending a post-Brexit transition period beyond the proposed 21 months to make talks on a future trade relationship easier.

But the meeting that had been painted as a make-or-break moment for a Brexit deal ended with a whimper.

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for an EU summit 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/Alastair Grant)
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for an EU summit 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/Alastair Grant) (Source: Alastair Grant)

"Nothing new tonight," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said after an evening when not exacerbating divisions with Britain was seen as a victory in itself.

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said that "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, 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)
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) (Source: Francisco Seco)

So uncertain was that prospect that a special EU summit on Brexit that had been penciled in for next month to finalize a deal was taken off the table. Rutte said EU leaders would assess the situation in the coming weeks and "stand ready to meet if necessary." The next official EU summit is scheduled for December.

Despite the lack of progress, the mood music at the summit was positive. May spoke of "working intensively over the next days and weeks" to achieve agreement that avoids a no-deal departure from the bloc for Britain 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.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, talks to EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier prior a weekly meeting at the European Commission 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. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, talks to EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier prior a weekly meeting at the European Commission 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. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) (Source: Francisco Seco)

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," Kurz said.

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)
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) (Source: Francisco Seco)

May addressed other EU leaders before they gathered for a dinner of pan-fried mushrooms and turbot in wheat beer — without her — to assess the state of Brexit talks. The British leader urged her counterparts to redouble efforts to find the way to a deal, but European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said she did offer them concrete new proposals.

"Politically speaking, a will was expressed to move forward and reach agreement but there was nothing substantively new in terms of content," Tajani told reporters.

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)
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) (Source: Francisco Seco)

May spoke a day after 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 Brexit negotiations to a standstill.

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)
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) (Source: Frank Augstein)

Both sides agree there must be no hard border, but each has rejected the other side's solution.

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.

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)
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) (Source: Alastair Grant)

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.

EU leaders have recently suggested that the transition period, currently due to end in December 2020, could be extended by a year to provide more time for a trade deal to be forged that would make the backstop unnecessary.

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)
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) (Source: Markus Schreiber)

Britain says it has not asked for an extension — but didn't rule it out Wednesday.

The summit continues Thursday with an agenda limited to some issues both sides firmly agree on, including fighting cybercrime and dealing with an assertive Russia.

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 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) (Source: Frank Augstein)

Reaching agreement with the bloc is only part of the British leader's problem. She will have to get any deal past her Conservative Party — split between "hard" and "soft" Brexit factions — and past 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.

It must also be approved by Britain's Parliament, where May lacks an overall majority.

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 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) (Source: Frank Augstein)

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said that 2 ½ 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."

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)
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) (Source: Francisco Seco)

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Associated Press writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this story.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani arrives for a meeting of the European People's Party EPP in Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 when European leaders meet to negotiate on terms of Britain's divorce from the European Union. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani arrives for a meeting of the European People's Party EPP in Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018 when European leaders meet to negotiate on terms of Britain's divorce from the European Union. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys) (Source: Olivier Matthys)
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for an EU summit 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/Alastair Grant)
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for an EU summit 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/Alastair Grant) (Source: Alastair Grant)