UK and EU to extend deadline for Brexit deal

Behind the scenes, U.K. and European Union officials admit it is unlikely that Brexit deal is reached in the next seven weeks.

The U.K. and the European Union still publicly say that they want the Brexit deal settled in the next seven weeks. Behind the scenes, though, senior officials on both sides admit this is unlikely.

They now aim to finalise divorce terms by mid November, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

The extended timeframe shows that little progress is being made and, as the date of the UK’s exit approaches, the chances that there won’t be a deal are growing. The EU summit, starting on 18th October, had been set aside as a deadline after hopes of settling the issue by June faded away.

The new deadline would likely trigger an emergency EU summit in November, though no firms plans for this have been made according to an EU official. Leaders are due to discuss Brexit at the upcoming Salzburg summit in September and at a subsequent October meeting in Brussels.

A meeting of centre-right European leaders, including Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk and Michel Barnier, in Helsinki in early November could be an important chance to assess the situation before the crunch.

The British Government also believes that the EU will want to conclude a Brexit deal to form a united front with the UK when leaders meet President Donald Trump at the G20 summit in November.

If the deadline is postponed again, both sides will under pressure to choose between giving ground and giving up on talks.

“As Parliament returns from its recess on Monday, Brexit is finally moving towards crunch point,” Eurasia Group’s Mujtaba Rahman said in a note on Wednesday. He said some British officials expect the deadline could slip even further -- to the summit of EU leaders starting on December 13. “There is now an acceptance in both Brussels and London that the target of reaching agreement by the 18-19 October EU leaders’ summit will definitely be missed.”

Negotiations have been painfully slow since an agreement on a transitional period was reached in March. The two sides remain far apart on the thorniest subject: how to guarantee there will never be a hard border between the U.K. province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Even so, British officials insist they’re “confident” of getting a deal.

Negotiations have stalled since the two sides reached an agreement on a transitional period in March. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains the thorniest issue on which little progress has been made. Nonetheless, the British government insists that it is “confident” of getting a deal.

“We’re working to the October deadline,” May’s spokesman, Greg Swift, told reporters in London on Tuesday. “Both sides have agreed to increase the pace of negotiations. That’s what we’re doing.”

Speaking after a meeting with UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab last week, Barnier refused to commit to the October deadline, but reiterated it couldn’t be much later than that.

According to a report in the Guardian, Raab has been disappointed by Barnier’s lack of availability for negotiations, despite the latter’s promise to be available “24-7” for talks.

British diplomats have claimed that Barnier’s promise to be available for negotiations at all times have proved hyperbolic.

Reaching a deal this autumn is considered vital in order to allow both sides to ratify the accord prior to Britain’s formal exit from the Union. The lack of progress has affected the pound, amid warnings from senior ministers that Britain risks crashing out of the EU without any agreement.

Published: August 25, 2018