Is a Brexit deal really dead or could it be revived before 31 October?
The chances of a deal with the EU are not completely extinguished, writes Ashley Cowburn, but it will take a massive effort from both sides
With just 21 days remaining, Boris Johnson appears to be on course for a resounding failure in delivering on his pledge to end the UK’s membership of the European Union by 31 October.
Despite unveiling his plans to Brussels last week at the climax of the Conservative Party conference, the UK and the EU are no closer to reaching a fresh agreement.
Potential extension dates to the Brexit negotiating period are already appearing in British newspapers after being briefed out by EU diplomats intimately involved in the talks.
Downing Street sources – using the cloak of anonymity – were briefing earlier this week that a deal was now “essentially impossible, not just now but ever”, as they blamed the EU for its intransigence in the talks.
The remarks led to a sensational standoff, and they are not exactly words you’d be expecting to read three weeks before the Brexit deadline if a new agreement between London and Brussels was seriously being considered.
However, neither side has announced the collapse of the talks. The prime minister is set to meet his Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, later this week, and the Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay has also been holding sessions with his officials in Brussels.
Both sides are still entertaining publicly the possibility of a deal being reached and speaking yesterday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said: “I think the deal is possible and very difficult, but possible”.
But speaking in the European parliament later the same day, Barnier also dismantled Downing Street’s border proposals for Norther Ireland point-by-point, adding: “To put things very frankly – we’re not really in a position where we’re able to find an agreement.
“Time is pressing. We are one week away from the European Council summit and just a few weeks away from the date of 31 October.”
Varadkar echoed his sentiment that a deal is, technically, possible. But he also added: “There hasn’t been any change to the EU negotiating position, we signed our guidelines to the council meetings, and they haven’t changed and they certainly cannot change until the summit next week.
“As far as the Irish government is concerned, we do want to deal, we’re willing to work hard to get a deal, to work until the last moment to get a deal, but certainly not at any cost.”
A deal is not dead, but it is certainly on life support and the talks are on the brink of collapse. Unless there is a dramatic shift in red lines on either side in the next fortnight, Johnson will be forced to concede no Brexit agreement is possible before the Halloween deadline. An extension to the UK’s membership of the EU will then be inevitable.