Brexit Bulletin: Behind the brinkmanship

Brexit Bulletin
Bloomberg

What's happening? The U.K. and European Union appear to be digging in – but there are signs of movement behind the scenes. 

On the surface, it's pure brinkmanship: On Tuesday, the EU dared the U.K. to walk away from trade talks if Prime Minister Boris Johnson views a deal as impossible by his own Oct. 15 deadline. The very next day, Johnson's government said it fully intends to do just that, if that's what it concludes.

But officials are more upbeat in private. While the politics are inescapable – and may yet be definitive – experienced negotiators know that sometimes the worst moments come shortly before a deal is struck.

In Full: Despite Brexit Ultimatums, U.K. and EU Lurch Toward a Deal

They remember Johnson's telephone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in October 2019, which prompted one U.K. government insider to brief that, because of her intransigence, a deal on the country's withdrawal from the EU was effectively impossible. One was done nine days later.

An elaborate choreography is being worked out, officials in Brussels with knowledge of the negotiations suggest, in which, despite some level of differences remaining, both sides will find a way to carry on discussions into the second half of October.

There is also evidence that the two sides are getting closer to overcoming some of the biggest obstacles to a deal: what rules limiting state aid the U.K. will have to follow, and what access EU fishing boats will have to British waters. (You can read more here.)

Timeline: One Month to Get a Deal or Messy Breakup

The EU is now waiting for Johnson to offer more concessions on state aid, and will then consider offering compromises of its own on fish. That could then allow both sides eventually to sign a deal. But that scenario faces two big risks: that Johnson won't move far enough for the EU on state aid, and that French President Emmanuel Macron resists any compromise on fish.

Next week is still a deadline, then, but not quite on Johnson's terms. We're reaching the point where emphatically political choices will have to be made in London, Paris and Berlin. That will require the intervention of national leaders.

Ian Wishart

Brexit in Brief

Beyond Brexit

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