James Forsyth

Macron’s no-deal delusion

Macron's no-deal delusion
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The Brexit waiting continues. The negotiators are still talking but, according to one of those close to the negotiations on the UK side, things are ‘still pretty stuck.’ There is, as RTE's Tony Connelly reports, a deadline of Christmas Eve on the EU side. But it would now be a surprise if a deal came today.

The UK offer on fish has not unblocked things as much as hoped. Michel Barnier has described it as ‘totally unacceptable’, which even accounting for diplomatic posturing is not encouraging. There is a sense that the EU side has not responded to the UK offer, which was considerable, in quite the way they might have. 

There is a danger that in some member states, notably France, they think that they will get what they want either now or by Easter. This, though, is a misreading of the situation. If these talks end in no-deal, then Boris Johnson could not — politically — go back and accept the same or worse terms. 

So, however difficult things got he would have to press on rather than come back to the pre-deadline table. This would mean that no-deal would not be short. Rather, it would last for quite some time — and a no-deal of any length would poison UK/EU relations for years, providing a further obstacle to a resumption of talks.

At stake in the next few days is the nature of UK/EU relations post Brexit. There can either be a respectful, reciprocal relationship between two important parts of the Western alliance. Or, there can be a difficult and acrimonious situation which leads to some very unneighbourly feeling. As leaders argue over fish quotas, and whether or not to include pelagic species, they must not forget this bigger picture.