Brexit talks on a sticky wicket but no one is pulling up stumps yet

Ray of hope as key obstacle falls away ahead of Johnson’s meeting with von der Leyen

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson: Despite atmosphere of gloom and pessimism, each side believes the other still wants a deal. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson: Despite atmosphere of gloom and pessimism, each side believes the other still wants a deal. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

 

When Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen sit down for dinner in Brussels on Wednesday evening, it will be in an atmosphere of deepening pessimism on both sides of the negotiations. As Michel Barnier told EU foreign ministers on Tuesday that no deal was now more likely that a deal, Johnson was himself musing about the talks’ failure.

“We are always hopeful, but there may come a moment when we have to acknowledge that it is time to draw stumps, and that is just the way it is,” he said, referring to the end of play in cricket.

For all the rhetorical gloom encircling the negotiations, the actions on both sides tell a more promising story. Tuesday’s announcement that the joint committee chaired by Michael Gove and Maros Sefcovic had resolved in principle all outstanding issues about the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol was an unexpected breakthrough.

BREXIT: The Facts

Read them here

The joint committee process is separate from the trade negotiations, but Tuesday’s agreement is evidence that even the most apparently intractable disagreements between Britain and the EU can be resolved. And the deal has allowed the British government to withdraw treaty-breaking clauses from the Internal Market Bill and to pull similar clauses from a forthcoming taxation Bill.

Leverage

The clauses, which Johnson hoped would give him more leverage in the talks, instead became a trap that increased the price of an agreement and the cost of failing to reach a deal. His threat to break international law pushed the EU into demanding stronger safeguards and enforcement mechanisms and threatened to undermine his relationship with US president-elect Joe Biden if there was no deal.

If Johnson’s retreat is self-interested, it also removes an obstacle in the way of a trade deal with the EU ahead of his meeting with von der Leyen. The European Commission said on Tuesday that the meeting would not be a negotiating session but would seek to unblock the talks before handing them back to the negotiators.

Barnier and his British counterpart David Frost have made an audit of the remaining differences which will form the basis of the two leaders’ talks. Von der Leyen will have a chance to discuss any possible compromises with EU leaders at Thursday’s European Council and negotiations could, if they don’t break down, continue until next week.

Each side believes the other still wants a deal and, despite the deadlock on fisheries, the level playing field and governance, neither looks ready to pull up stumps just yet.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.