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Brexit Bulletin: Still on speaking terms

Brexit Bulletin

What's happening? Michel Barnier is on his way to London again to resume intensive daily discussions.

Talks will start again in London on Saturday amid warnings from British and European officials of big disagreements that could scuttle any deal, Ian Wishart and Nikos Chrysoloras report today. Brexit deadlines may be an elastic concept, but time is definitely running out to agree, ratify and implement an accord before the U.K.'s transition period expires at year-end.

The next few days will be critical, and both sides will need to step up the pace. Talks slowed almost to a halt in recent days after one member of the EU negotiating team tested positive for Covid-19, forcing face-to-face discussions to be suspended.

The EU and U.K. are still at loggerheads over three issues that have dogged the negotiations since they began: the level playing field, how any deal will be enforced, and fishing rights. Each side says the onus is on the other to make a decisive move if a deal is to be reached.

Yet for all the posturing – and a threat by Barnier not to come to London – the two sides are still talking, with the likely impact of a no-deal outcome looming over the negotiations. That's a positive sign. So, too, is the lack of time. In past EU negotiations, both sides have held out until the last minute before reaching a deal, a tactic that helps them to put pressure on each other and marginalize any political opposition to any agreement at home.

We may then, at last, be approaching the moment of decision. In private, officials are optimistic a positive outcome can be reached – but getting there will depend on the next few days in London.

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