Four-and-a-half years after the UK voted to leave the EU during its 2016 referendum on EU membership, it was widely speculated that the negotiations for a UK-EU trade deal would conclude at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday December 13: deal or no-deal.
However, only hours before the latest Brexit deadline – following a phone call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday morning – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared that the talks will extend beyond Sunday.
Von Der Leyen: ‘It is Responsible at this Point to go Beyond the Extra Mile’
The EC President said “it is responsible at this point to go beyond the extra mile.” Prior to Sunday’s announcements, there were many reasons to believe that a no-deal outcome was possible. Mr. Johnson insisted before Sunday that the terms offered by the EU for a deal continue to be “unacceptable” to the UK, because Brussels is determined to prevent Britain from gaining what it views as an unfair advantage of having tariff-free access to its markets while setting its own standards on products, employment rights and business subsidies. The British Prime Minister was right to make such a suggestion as it defeats the whole point of leaving the EU, which is for Britain to regain its sovereignty.
Now that both sides have agreed to resume negotiations, this does not necessarily mean that a no-deal Brexit is becoming increasingly unlikely, but those hoping for a deal have some reason to remain optimistic for now.
Time is Rapidly Running Out to Make a Deal
The BBC’s Kevin Connolly said that a deal is not impossible now that both parties are talking. The transition period for the UK to leave the EU runs out on January 1, which means there is still time to complete a trade agreement, but time is tight as there are only a few weeks left before the start of the new year. Also, there are still many sticking points between both sides.
Some of those obstacles as mentioned above are the UK being able to diverge from the EU’s regulations and the support future British governments will provide to businesses, but Brussels is also concerned about who will be allowed to fish in British waters post-Brexit, and how an agreement will be enforced.
Mr. Johnson said that both parties are ‘going to try with all of our hearts’ for a deal, but he warned that the chance of leaving the EU on WTO terms remains very real. The Times’ Political Editor Steven Swinford tweeted a read-out from the Prime Minister’s call to his Cabinet, saying he sounded “downbeat” about the chances of reaching a deal.
A Deal Could Cost Johnson His Political Career
In another blow to Johnson’s hopes for an agreement, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said he wanted a deal that respected the integrity of the EU’s Single Market. But such an agreement would give the Prime Minister a headache on the Tory backbenches, as they do not want a trade pact that forces Britain to abide by Single Market rules.
As both parties are stuck on matters of principle, the only way forward now is a compromise, but if it is one that sacrifices the rights of British fishermen, or results in Britain having to abide by EU rules, it will be the death of Johnson’s political career. He was elected to “get Brexit done” and today’s deadline extension directly calls that into question.
It will be a miracle if the EU and Britain can sign a trade deal ready for January 1. It will require Herculean efforts from both parties to reach such an outcome. Clearly the EU and the UK extended the deadline on Sunday because they believe that a deal is possible, but at what expense to Johnson’s career? At least the Prime Minister was correct about one thing: prepare for the possibility of a World Trade Organization (WTO) Brexit.