Some Europeans worry that the proposal would also allow Britain a competitive advantage.
Extending the post-Brexit transition period, perhaps by another year, would give more time to negotiate the details of Britain’s future relationship with the bloc. But that would not please those in Britain, including members of Mrs. May’s own cabinet, who want a cleaner, faster break with Brussels.
The Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said that the European Union would be willing to extend a transition period but insisted that Britain must not renege on previous agreements to prevent a hard border in Ireland.
Ahead of the meeting Mrs. May said that “everybody around the table” wanted an agreement for an orderly British withdrawal, and “by working intensively over the next days and weeks I believe we can achieve a deal.”
Speaking after her talk to the other leaders, the head of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said that “I did not perceive anything substantially new in terms of content as I listened to Mrs. May. The tone was of someone who wanted to reach an agreement. But there’s no change in content.”
There was better news for Mrs. May from the United States. In what was presumably intended to bolster Mrs. May, the Trump administration announced that it would initiate trade negotiations with Britain — but only after it leaves the European Union at the end of March 2019.
While talks can take place, Britain would not be able to sign any trade deal with another country until after the transition period of nearly two years, if not longer, while it negotiates its own future relationship with the European Union.
As currently understood, that transition period would last until at least the end of 2020, though it might be extended until the end of 2021. During that time Britain would follow the rules of the European Union even if it is not formally a member, and would continue to pay into the bloc’s budget.