James Forsyth

Brexit talks go down to the wire

Brexit talks go down to the wire
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After the past few years, it is hard to take Brexit deadlines seriously; they have a tendency to always slide to the right. But Sunday night/Monday morning really is the final deadline, as I say in the Times this morning.

There are two reasons for this. First, the Internal Market Bill and the Finance Bill are in the Commons on Monday and Tuesday respectively. Both of these bills override parts of the withdrawal agreement, and in particular the Northern Ireland protocol. The EU would fiercely object, complaining the UK was breaking its obligations under international law and pointing to how the government had itself admitted it was a 'specific and limited' breach. It would argue it couldn’t negotiate with a partner that behaved like this. The subsequent row would almost certainly lead to the talks collapsing.

The second is the last EU Council meeting of the year on Thursday. Their needs to be a text that the leaders can examine in their own languages by then.

Yesterday afternoon’s negotiating session doesn’t sound like it went well. The British side has accused the French of making fresh demands on level playing field rules right at the last minute. The EU, meanwhile, deny any such demands were made. So, we will have to see what happens today. I suspect that the talks are soon going to need a nudge from a conversation between Boris Johnson and the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen if they are to succeed.

In the coming days, Michel Barnier and Ursula von der Leyen have a more difficult job than David Frost and Boris Johnson. If Barnier and Von der Leyen bring back a compromise for pre-approval it will be picked apart by the member states. They would demand that this or that delicate balance be shifted, and rapidly the deal would fall apart. So, they will have to make a judgment call on what deal the EU27 will accept. This will obviously be one informed by contact with national capitals. But ultimately Barnier and Von der Leyen will have to make the decision.