In Brief

Why are Downing Street and the EU striking different tones about Brexit progress?

Michel Barnier suggests agreement in sight as No. 10 warns of no-deal

Depending on who you believe, a Brexit deal may be just around the corner - or just a fading dream.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday that there had been “movement” in the negotiations following the extension of Sunday’s deadline for reaching a future trade agreement. 

“This is the architecture we are building,” she told an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conference in Paris. “We are fine about the architecture itself, but the details in it - do they really fit? These are crucial points.”

Von der Leyen’s cautiously optimistic tone was shared by Michel Barnier. The EU’s chief negotiator reportedly told the bloc’s ambassadors that a “narrow path” leading to a deal remained open, while also “warning that success would hinge on breakthroughs on difficult issues, including EU fishing rights”, says the Financial Times.

The mood in the UK camp appears to be significantly different, however. 

A government source told the BBC on Monday that the negotiating teams had not made any “significant progress”. The leak came a day after Boris Johnson warned that “the most likely thing now is that we do have to get ready for WTO terms”. 

But despite all the talk in London about a no-deal exit, The Times’ policy editor Oliver Wright suggests that Johnson’s “gloomy public prognosis is less aimed at the EU and more for domestic consumption”. 

The prime minister’s “greatest fear” is that “many businesses who deal with the EU have simply not appreciated the scale of the things they need to do even if an agreement is reached with Brussels”, according to Wright.

“By playing up the threat of no deal - which businesses know will lead to disruption - Johnson is hoping to spur them into last-minute action which will be beneficial even if there is a deal.”

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