Let’s unpick Michel Barnier’s “6 to 8 weeks” timeline for a deal on the Withdrawal Agreement.
6 to 8 weeks from now is the first half of November, when we hear ever more mutterings about a special European Council.
Given the downgrading of the October European Council (now only one day), in light of the non-progress, the new meeting in November would be the most convenient first point to get the Withdrawal Agreement signed off.
But in order to do that, quite a lot needs to happen first.
Let us work it backwards...
You would need the approval of the EU27 internally, off the back of a briefing from Michel Barnier. These usually happen about a week before the European Council.
Michel Barnier would be briefing on the successful negotiations with the UK, following some rounds of back-and-forth with national capitals (EU and UK) about the terms of the agreement. This would be the bit that takes the most time.
But all of that needs to be triggered by someone advancing some proposals about how to unblock the remaining issues (the Irish dimension, the governance, etc.).
And that is the real block right now.
To have a reasonable chance of hitting the new November deadline, some movement is needed now, and particularly from the UK side.
That is because while the UK Government says it will accept the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, it is only going to do so if it never has to be used. So, it is on them to find a form of words to achieve this.
The difficulty is the looming Party Conference season, when Theresa May might not want to give any more ammunition to her opponents (although she might calculate that they are more mouth than trousers, given the past week...).
So, Michel Barnier’s November schedule is viable, but only if fingers are pulled out now.
Which they might well not be.🔷
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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)