Brexit Talks Set to Miss Deadline and Continue Next Week

Trade talks between the U.K. and European Union are set to be extended beyond this weekend’s informal deadline and continue in Brussels next week, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Negotiators have been working round the clock in London since Monday, with both sides pinpointing the end of this week as the last moment they could strike a deal while still allowing enough time for parliamentary ratification before the U.K leaves the bloc’s single market on Dec. 31.

While the talks haven’t reached a conclusion, officials think there’s enough progress to warrant carrying on. They will probably resume in Brussels, the people said, speaking on condition on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

“We can get a deal done,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told a Dublin webinar on Wednesday. “If we can’t get a deal done, it will represent an extraordinary failure of politics and diplomacy. Everybody wants a deal here. And the cost of failure is what will motivate people to hopefully agree to sensible compromise.”

One of the people warned there were now only a few days left to reach an agreement and pointed to a video-conference of the EU’s 27 leaders on Nov. 19 as a possible deadline. That would allow them to approve any deal on the call.

Officials close to the talks said that negotiators are making progress this week and the extension into next week should be seen as a signal both sides believe an agreement is in sight.

Time is tight because the U.K. and European parliaments need to ratify any agreement before the end of the year. While this could be done in a matter of days in the British parliament, the EU side needs longer. European lawmakers want the text to scrutinize in committees before a vote in their last plenary session, which begins on Dec. 14.

On Saturday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after a phone call that large differences -- notably on access to British fishing waters and the level playing field for business -- still need to be bridged if there is to be an agreement.

Both sides said they were redoubling their efforts this week.

Timetable to departure
  • Oct. 15-16: EU leaders met in Brussels. Originally, they wanted an agreement to have been nailed down by that point
  • End of Oct.-Mid-Nov.: Original three-week window for intensified talks to strike a deal
  • Week of Nov. 16: Talks set to continue
  • Nov. 19: EU leaders hold video conference
  • Nov. 23-26: European Parliament meets. It will have to ratify any deal agreed by EU leaders
  • Dec. 10-11: Another EU summit. If a deal hasn’t been signed, expect preparations for Britain’s messy exit from the single market to figure prominently on the agenda.
  • Dec. 14-17 European Parliament meets for last time this year
  • Dec. 31: End of Brexit transition period. The final, immovable deadline. If the two sides haven’t signed a trade deal, Britain will default to trading with the EU on World Trade Organization terms.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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