Brexit Bulletin: Enter the politicians

Brexit Bulletin
Bloomberg

What's Happening? Brexit is about to return to the politicians.

The negotiators have done their bit. When the latest round of talks break up tomorrow, Michel Barnier and David Frost, the European and British Brexit leads, are likely to say that huge differences remain between the two sides on the shape of future ties after Dec. 31 this year. It will be up to the politicians to break the stalemate.

The European Union hopes to persuade U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to compromise, people familiar with the matter in Brussels told Bloombergs Ian Wishart this week. All eyes will be on Johnson when he meets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel later this month. The prime minister will be told where the EU could make concessions—as long as the U.K. takes a similar approach.

Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister, will play a key role in the final stage of the Brexit saga.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

That may be wishful thinking, in the words of Johnson's spokesman. Downing Street sees many EU demands as an infringement of its sovereignty, and has threatened to walk away from the talks this month if they don't make satisfactory progress. The Bank of England told British lenders this week to ramp up their preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

Behind the rhetoric there are signs of movement. It's possible the EU may retreat from what Barnier has called its "maximalist" demand to enjoy the same access to British fishing waters as it does today. But that still leaves big disagreements over what measures will be needed to ensure a level competitive playing field between the two sides and what jurisdiction European courts will have in the U.K.

Most likely is that Johnson and von der Leyen will simply agree to keep on talking. But they won't have long—given that the U.K. has ruled out any extension of its transition period, any deal would have to be struck this year. And, as Germany's ambassador to the EU warned on Thursday, Britain will still have to give up some sovereignty if it wants access to the single market. He predicted that, once the time needed to approve and implement any accord is factored in, the real deadline will be October—unlucky for anyone hoping for an autumn break after the coronavirus scuppered their summer vacation plans.

Edwards Evans

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