British and EU Negotiators Meet in Brussels to Force Brexit Breakthrough

After months of false starts, time is running out for a deal to be done before Dec. 31.


By Colm Quinn, Foreign Policy

November 16, 2020


Brexit Negotiations Are Running Out Of Time


The European Union and United Kingdom continue trade talks in Brussels today, following months of stalled debates and stalemate. At this point there have probably been more “pivotal” weeks over the course of Brexit negotiations than there are European Union member states, so what makes this time different?


The most important factor is time, and the lack of it. The so-called transition period for Britain and the EU ends on Dec. 31, bringing in a new era of trade relations. The next few days will decide whether that era is relatively smooth or chaotic in the event of a no-deal outcome. Time also weighs on the European parliament, which ultimately has to read the draft deal (after it’s been translated into the bloc’s 24 official languages) and approve it before that end of year deadline.


Adding more urgency to today’s talks is a new deadline: Thursday Nov. 19, when heads of EU member states meet via videoconference to discuss COVID-19 and have an opportunity to go over a draft deal, if there is one.


A new approach? The departure of senior aides Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings, both fervent Brexiteers, from 10 Downing Street last week has raised expectations that Britain’s approach may soften and a deal may get done quickly. That hope should be tempered by the fact that the membership of Johnson’s cabinet—and indeed his political mandate following last year’s general election—implied an anti-EU direction from the beginning, making a change in tone unlikely.


That was underlined by Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost Twitter thread on Sunday. To Frost, the only deal that’s possible “is one that is compatible with our sovereignty and takes back control of our laws, our trade, and our waters. That has been our consistent position from the start and I will not be changing it.”


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