Brexit Bulletin: Stuck in summertime

Brexit Bulletin

What's Happening? The fifth round of negotiations between Britain and the European Union ended with both sides saying an agreement is way off.

A free-trade deal is unlikely unless the U.K. backs down on its demands, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, warned as talks broke up Thursday. David Frost, his British counterpart, said that both sides have to face the possibility an agreement won't be reached.

But behind the rhetoric there were indications that both sides are showing at least some willingness to compromise. As Ian Wishart reports here, progress is being made on some of the biggest obstacles to a deal: how it will be structured, what role the European Court of Justice will have in policing it, and just how far Britain will be required to apply the EU's state aid rules.

Michel Barnier (C) in London on July 23


That still leaves two major bones of contention: what rights EU boats will have to fish in U.K. waters; and the level playing field, the restrictions the EU wants in place to ensure companies face fair competition from the U.K. On the former, the EU has already indicated that it's willing to compromise — but has little incentive to make a further concession on such a sensitive topic until later in the negotiations. Progress on the latter will likely require Britain to offer a concession of its own, something it is in no rush to provide just yet.

You may have spotted the pattern. In Brexit, nobody blinks until the last minute, and we're not at that point yet. A July deadline mooted in recent weeks looked like an attempt by the U.K. to exert pressure on the EU; October is the real deadline. Member states will need the time after that to implement the deal before the transition period expires in December. Brexit is going down to the wire — but only after the summer vacation.

Edward Evans

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