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Frustration and Brexit despondency reign right now in EU circles. “This new round of EU-UK negotiations is essentially window dressing,” one official tells me. “Each side just repeats well-known red lines to the other. And all this with time running out.”
Every two weeks, the PM sets another deadline for “crunch time”. It was supposed to be today, now it’s theoretically end of Feb, but few in the EU see things moving bilaterally until March. Probably the EU summit on 21 March with 8 days to go until ‘B Day’.
Even well-seasoned EU officials don’t want to predict with certainty what could happen then. Many in the UK who voted Leave because ‘Brussels bureaucrats have all the power’ might be interested to see that the power for change in the Brexit deal lies with the 27 national leaders.
“And who knows what they might do if faced with an imminent no deal,” one EU diplomat tells me. “But up until now it’s been the EU leaders taking the hard line in negotiations. Not Brussels officials.”
The EU complains that - even as time runs out - the UK political class is back negotiating with itself and not with the European Union. “The political focus in the UK is on how MPs move around the chess board; not on how the EU will react to amendments,” says a senior EU contact.
Bottom line: EU not convinced - because of shifting political sands in the UK - that any move made now by them would definitely get the deal over the line in the UK. So, why budge?
An EU diplomat tells me, “This isn’t about machismo: us refusing to back down. We need to find a sustainable solution for the millions affected here. We see May trying to blackmail three groups simultaneously: EU + Ireland, Labour and Brexiteers. Chance of this ending badly is high.”
Another EU source says, “Some of the ‘solutions’ to backstop you read about in the UK press being ‘discussed in Brussels’ must be skilful Downing Street spin. We in Brussels are often surprised to read about them. Maybe they are test balloons to see how we react.”
If Yvette Cooper’s amendment passes end of February that would take the heat off EU leaders having to blink last minute in March. No deal Brexit is seen as a real possibility here. Also because an eventual EU blink - depending what it was - might still not be enough to get the deal through a divided House of Commons.
The chance of Article 50 extension is seen here as high in the EU. Though there’s no appetite for it. Brexit fatigue runs deep here.
Could an extension be avoided? As clock runs down, a favoured scenario for the EU would be the PM - locked in late March summit with EU leaders - agrees to a permanent customs union, leading to the EU rewriting the backstop - allowing the ‘real prize’: EU-UK trade negotiations to begin.
The above text was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into text-only by PMP Magazine. It is unredacted. It may have been minorly edited to remove abbreviations and spelling mistakes in order to be more readable. The author of the tweets wrote in a personal capacity. The tweets are public. (Source: Twitter) —
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(This is an original piece, first published by the PMP Magazine.)
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