If you’re keeping your eye on the UK/EU Brexit negotiations, you’re probably experiencing a severe case of déjà vu. Over the last days, weeks and months, we’ve heard continuously repeated claims that lose some of their potency with each mentioning. “Time is running out”, a deal is “difficult”, but “doable”, and both sides are working hard to secure the deal they want.
Throughout the endless months of talks – and talks about talks, and even more talks – the difference in tone between the EU and UK has become increasingly evident. The approaching deadline has not softened the UK’s bullish approach or the EU’s air of calm professionalism.
This week’s latest (the last?) round of talks in Brussels began with a series of tweets by the UK’s lead negotiator, Lord David Frost. On Sunday evening, he mentioned that some progress had been made, but ended on a pessimistic note. His Twitter thread concluded: “But we may not succeed. Either way, as the Prime Minister @BorisJohnson made clear on October 16th, people and business must prepare for the change that is coming on December 31st, most of which happens whether there is a deal or not.”
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, clearly had a different perspective, tweeting that the EU “remains determined, patient, respectful. We want our future cooperation to be open but fair in all areas”. Considering the continuous back and forth games that the UK government has played – such as threatening to break the existing legal agreement – by now one can only speculate the EU’s patience must have been tested many times over.
The issue of the level playing field is another strong bone of contention and is without any resolution. It appears the UK is resisting the ability for either side of the fence to retaliate, should either party stray from the level playing field. The elephant in the room question of which body will deal with any disputes also remains. This leaves thousands of British expatriates in a state of flux as we clamber to swap our driving licences to Maltese ones and register for the new Brexit residency card, pondering what’s in store next.
Another deadline will pass. A few more days will be found to work out the details and reach some agreement. Yet another “last chance saloon”. There’ll be the talk of an extension, though they’ll repackage it as something else. The threat of no deal will be thrown about, but the talks won’t be over. Or they will be, then they won’t be. Time is running out on both sides.
There are rumours the EU may offer the UK a “take it or leave it deal”. While EU lawyers are looking at ways to “rush through” the ratification process, there’s also talk of an emergency plan to delay the vote. All of which makes it increasingly difficult for the UK to suggest that it is the EU, not themselves, that are making a deal less likely.
Of course, I could be entirely mistaken, and finally, a deal could be settled this week. It will be a shoddy deal, but it will be better than the alternative. It will be sold to the British public as a “win” from the same greedy salesman that sold us the rhetoric “Make Britain great again” the wonderful golden age Brexit and, despite our better judgement, we’ll roll our eyes, and breathe a sigh of relief.