Brexit Deal Hangs in the Balance With Monday Deadline in Doubt
(Bloomberg) -- Brexit talks hang in the balance as negotiators work through the weekend, with neither side confident they will clinch a deal in time to meet a self-imposed deadline of Monday.
People familiar with both sides of the negotiation, who declined to be named, said there were obstacles to a deal over the thorniest issue of all -- how to avoid a border emerging on the island of Ireland without erecting one between Northern Ireland and Britain. The European Commission told ambassadors on Friday that it was a make-or-break weekend.
Both sides are aiming for progress ahead of a summit on Wednesday that could pave the way to the deal being signed in November. But as Prime Minister Theresa May fights off growing criticism of her negotiating stance at home, two key bits of the choreography are yet to be confirmed: A visit by Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab to Brussels on Monday and a dinner for May and her European counterparts on Wednesday.
A meeting of leaders’ right-hand men and women scheduled for Monday could be canceled if weekend talks don’t yield progress. Still, negotiators will assess the state of play on Sunday night, and in the best case a public announcement could be made on Monday.
If progress isn’t made in time for the gathering on Wednesday, leaders won’t formally call the November summit, one of the people familiar with negotiations said. That could spook investors, who are increasingly pricing in the prospect of a deal.
Talks are stuck on the issue of the Irish border and a guarantee, or so-called backstop clause in the divorce treaty, which is proving impossible for May’s allies at home to accept.
At least one Cabinet minister is considering resigning over the prime minister’s Brexit position, according to people familiar with the situation.
May has to make sure that whatever deal she negotiates will pass the U.K. Parliament -- where she doesn’t have a majority -- and the concessions floated so far risk alienating two key groups. The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party objects to the current solution for the Irish border as it will erect some barriers between the province and the rest of the U.K. Hardline Brexiteers object to it because it risks keeping the U.K. tied to EU rules indefinitely.
Negotiators are trying to find a way to make the backstop more palatable.
One idea discussed on Friday is to allow for the transition -- the 21-month grace period that’s due to kick in after Brexit day -- to be extended if needed. That could take the sting out of the backstop by making it less likely that it would ever be invoked. However, one negotiator cautioned that it might not be enough to get the British onside.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.