Five signs that Brexit agreement is about to be agreed - and a couple that point to no-deal
Negotiators from EU and UK are nearing finishing lap of race to reach future trade treaty
Leaders from both the UK and EU have hinted that a Brexit deal may be struck within days, following months of negotiation stalemates that have threatened to send Britain crashing out of the bloc without a trade treaty in place.
EU officials have “flagged this week as the one to watch”, says Politico, which reports that “numerous signs” of an impending agreement have created a “feeling among observers that things are finally getting serious”.
So just what are those signs?
Timing is everything
Negotiators on both sides of the talks are keenly aware that as the end of the Brexit transition period approaches, any hope of coming to an agreement will be all but snuffed out unless a compromise is reached this week.
London and Brussels “need to seal an arrangement by Saturday to have time to get it through their respective parliaments by the end of the year”, The Sun reports.
Boris Johnson was said to be “lining up a call with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen after she put pressure on her negotiator Michel Barnier to get it tied up”.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reporters that if EU leaders “show the pragmatism, the goodwill and good faith that has surrounded the last leg of the talks... I think there is a deal to be done”.
Raab has argued that with the deadline looming, striking a deal will be mutually beneficial for both the EU and UK. “We want to adopt the same precedents that the EU has with other third countries,” he said. “The mutual interest in a deal is very strong. I think there is a landing zone if the EU is as reasonable as the UK has been.”
A Whitehall source told the Daily Express that the bloc “appeared to be close to some form of breaking point” and that many in London are anticipating a “compromise” from Europe by the end of the week.
Fishing rights have long been a major sticking point in the Brexit talks.
But experts “doubt that the trade talks will fail over the fish industry” when push comes to shove, says the London Evening Standard. Fishing “accounts for only around 0.1% of the UK’s GDP, a fraction of that of financial services, which is understood to not be part of the proposed deal”, the paper reports.
Hope is also growing that the EU is becoming more flexible on the issue, with the bloc reportedly offering to restore to Britain up to 18% of the fish quota in UK waters currently allocated to EU27 fleets.
Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said the offer is “significant because it indicates a movement away from the very inflexible negotiating mandate they set for themselves”.
Rock and a hard place
Johnson and his cabinet are facing significant pressure from both the private and public sector to finalise a deal.
Businesses across the continent are “getting extra nervous and piling the pressure on politicians to come up with solutions”, Politico reports. Lobby group BusinessEurope has warned that “we cannot afford another major disruption caused by a no-deal situation”.
Echoing that message, Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “Now must be the time for political leadership and the spirit of compromise to shine through on both sides. A deal can and must be made.”
The UK’s border with Ireland is once again proving to be a sticking point in the latest round of talks.
However, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said this week that a deal is “possible... because the consequences of no deal are so costly and so disruptive, particularly for the UK and for Northern Ireland, but for the Republic of Ireland as well”.
Despite the rising optimism that a Brexit deal can be struck, other signs indicate that the negotiations are doomed to fail.
While some observers are taking the EU’s offer on fishing as a sign of further compromise to come, not everyone is impressed by what critics claim is an insultingly small concession.
A government source told The Telegraph that the offer put forward by Brussels on fishing rights was “risible”, adding: “The EU side know full well that we would never accept this. There seems to be a failure from the Commission to internalise the scale of change needed as we become an independent nation.”
Tempers also appear to be fraying over in Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned this week the EU was losing patience and that while she “hope[s] that the negotiations will have a good end”, Europe’s leaders “don’t need a deal at any price and we have made this clear”.
Who wants a deal?
Both sides are waiting for “the other to cave first - but neither wants to be the one to walk away from the table”, says Politico. The result may be “a no-deal exit almost by accident”.
“We might end up sleepwalking toward the end of the transition period,” an EU official told the site.
Some commentators have also suggested that Brussels may be angling for a no-deal exit as a means of forcing the UK’s hand further down the line.
“If the two sides fail to reach a deal, World Trade Organization rules kick in and tariffs are required for goods crossing borders,” Politico reports. “Some on the Brussels side think a rupture might focus minds in London.”
The EU source added: “When they gather the size of the disruption, they will start knocking on our door soon enough. The logic of international trade negotiations is relatively simple: size matters.”