Brexit Bulletin: Covid strikes again

Brexit Bulletin
Bloomberg

What's happening? Just as the negotiations looked to be on the home straight, the coronavirus struck again.

In private, officials were growing increasingly confident that Britain and the European Union would be able to strike a post-Brexit trade deal by early next week. Then on Thursday it was disclosed that a member of EU team had tested positive for Covid-19, forcing both sides to break off face-to-face discussions.

It may not be quite the setback it first appears. Something similar happened in March when Michel Barnier and David Frost, the two sides' chief negotiators, were forced into self-isolation. But, back then, nine months of the transition period remained. Now we have just 41 days, adding extra risk to the process.

That's a fact not lost on EU leaders. Late on Thursday a group led by French President Emmanuel Macron called on the bloc to step up contingency plans in case a deal isn't reached. On Friday, EU envoys were told that the talks could stretch into December because so little progress has been made.

More: When Is a Deadline Not a Deadline? When It's a Brexit Deadline

Given these talks have crashed through so many deadlines, it is foolish to make any predictions. In reality, each side is using them as a tool to extract concessions from the other. In the negotiating room, some progress is being made on even the most controversial parts of the agreement.

The biggest barrier to a deal remains the political one. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are almost certain to have to intervene before a deal is finally reached. Until they do, those deadlines are going to keep whizzing by — at least until Dec. 31.

An Irish-American Affair 

Ireland is the EU member with the most to lose from Brexit. Yet as a result of an orchestrated campaign to ensure its own interests are protected, it has the ear of powerful American allies who could make life difficult for the U.K. in the years to come. Throughout the Brexit process Ireland has deployed "soft power" tactics to secure its interests in Washington. "I've found over the years the Brits, they don't realize the impact of the U.S.," says U.S. Congressman Peter King. As Dara Doyle and Billy House reported this week, Ireland's effort is a microcosm of the nation's ability to outflank the U.K. in the court of international opinion.

Read in full:  Brexit Britain Collides With Irish Soft Power in Washington

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs the visitor's book with then-Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin Castle on April 17, 2019.

Photographer: Pool/Getty Images Europe

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