EU, U.K. See Little Hope of Brexit Breakthrough With Days to Go
European and U.K. officials are pessimistic about the chances of a breakthrough in Brexit talks, with Britain accusing the bloc of intransigence and European negotiators worried that whatever they offer won’t be enough to get Parliament behind Theresa May’s deal.
According to three people familiar with the European side, there’s increasing concern that any concessions the bloc would be prepared to give wouldn’t be sufficient to win a majority in the House of Commons. The EU is reluctant to tweak its position if it’s not sure it would get the deal over the line.
A U.K. official said the EU side is refusing to budge, and played down the chances that May would head to Brussels this weekend to clinch the agreement. Talks will continue through the weekend, said Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, who is leading the British negotiating effort.
With just days to go until May has to bring a revised accord back to the parliament that routed her deal in January, positions on both sides are hardening. Each side is counting on the other to back down in a game of brinkmanship.
Brexit purists in London, who appeared to be softening toward May’s deal last week, are once again stiffening their resolve. Even as there’s still time for positions to shift, U.K. officials are mapping out what happens next if her deal is defeated again.
The view in Brussels is that unrealistic expectations have built up in London, and that Cox -- sent in to negotiate this final tweak to the deal that was agreed last year -- is asking for the impossible, according to people briefed on negotiations.
EU negotiators are also riled by having to do business with a new interlocutor, the people said. Cox is a veteran barrister known for his ornate rhetoric and a theatrical baritone. Tuesday’s talks were described by European officials as some of the worst-tempered of the two-year process.
Cox himself expressed surprise at briefings emerging from the EU.
“We are discussing text with the European Union,” Cox said. “I am surprised to hear the comments that have emerged over the last 48 hours that the proposals are not clear -- they are as clear as day and we are continuing to discuss them.”
Still, the risk of a no-deal Brexit has been taken off the table, at least for now.
That’s because Parliament has been handed a veto over a chaotic exit, and previous ballots indicate lawmakers would prevent the catastrophe scenario businesses dread. If May’s deal is rejected on Tuesday, Parliament will instead most likely vote to extend the exit day deadline and pro-EU lawmakers will try to force the government to soften, or even reverse the divorce.
In a sign of Parliamentary compromises that may emerge, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday met for more than an hour with the Conservative former ministers Oliver Letwin and Nick Boles, who support a soft Brexit in an attempt to forge a common approach.
That diminished threat of no-deal also eases the pressure on the bloc to make concessions, according to one of the people familiar with the situation.
As May’s team contemplates defeat next week, the government is trying to send a clear message to those considering voting down her deal: she doesn’t plan to head back to Brussels to extract new concessions. Instead, Parliament will take control, and MPs who don’t like the deal on offer will like the alternative even less.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.