In Depth

Brexit countdown: what needs to be agreed and can Boris Johnson get a deal over the line?

Both parties are eager to reach an agreement - but longstanding issues remain contentious

Brexit talks have today moved from London to Brussels, with both sides stepping up efforts to flesh out the framework of an agreement in the next week.

After days of talks in the capital, Lord David Frost and the rest of the UK’s negotiating team are “now expected to stay there until 4 November as they try to hammer out a deal”, Politico says.

The change of scenery comes after last week’s reports that three phone calls between EU and UK officials had “unlocked” talks and the parameters for subsequent negotiations had been mutually agreed.

What needs to be agreed?

Despite the relatively small size of Britain’s fishing industry, which consists of just 12,000 fishermen, it is still proving a major sticking point in talks. The EU wants to preserve the arrangement that grants fishermen on the continent the same access rights to UK waters, whereas the UK wants “the Europeans to accept that Britain has left their club”, The New York Times says.

“The face of Brexit will be the face of our fisherman, so we must be able to tell them that their interests were protected,” France’s Europe minister, Clement Beune, said on Wednesday, alluding to the issue’s symbolic importance. “There is no reason for us to give in to British pressure” he added.

The two sides are also still struggling to resolve differences relating to “level playing field” guarantees and conditions for business and governance, the Financial Times reports. 

However, the Daily Express says both parties “have started work on the text of an agreement on the level playing field and are edging closer to finalising a joint document covering state aid”. “The UK and EU have also moved closer to deciding essential aspects of how any accord will be enforced” the paper adds.

What’s the mood music?

Negotiations have now entered the “tunnel” phase, with both sides eager to get stuck into the finer detail away from the gaze of the media, The Guardian reports. EU officials have said that mid-November is now the deadline for a deal “for there to be time for parliamentary ratification on both sides of the Channel”, the paper adds.

According to Bloomberg, the EU’s mantra of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” is holding firm despite a clear willingness from both sides to reach a deal.

Negotiators on both sides of the channel believe a political intervention from Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron is increasingly likely, as a consequence of the EU linking British access to transport and energy markets on the continent to fishing.

“Will we get a deal? I don't know - it will depend on what will be on the table” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters yesterday. “You know the most difficult topics, and we are working to try to find solutions... it’s not possible for me to assess what will happen in the next days or in the next two weeks.”

Britain is hoping German Chancellor Angela Merkel will help broker a compromise, with one Whitehall source telling the Daily Mail: “We are relatively optimistic but that doesn’t mean it won’t end in tears.”

Pressure growing

Public pressure on the government was dialled up a notch this week after YouGov poll found that 57% of Britons would blame Boris Johnson if no-deal was the final outcome of talks. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they felt that the government has “generally failed” in fulfilling its negotiating objectives.

The poll came as the head of the UK’s leading employers’ organisation also “stepped up pressure on the government to conclude trade talks”, The Guardian says. 

Confederation of British Industry Director General Carolyn Fairbairn told the paper that the country needs to move on from the “suspended animation” of the past four years, adding that “a deal is enormously better than no deal”.

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