It seems that something went wrong in the Brexit negotiations this evening. But what exactly?


First published in December 2020.


Yes, we have had β€œWe’re almost there” moments before, but we have not had one quite like this evening – where briefings from both UK and EU sources were indicating that a Deal was on.

Even normally level headed journalists like Alberto Nardelli (Correspondent-at-large for Europe, Bloomberg), Tony Connelly (Europe Editor, RTE) and Peter Foster (Public Policy Editor, Financial Times) seemed to think it was on, or at least very close.

There were even rumours of statements from the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (from Georg von Harrach, Channel 4 News), and that a statement would come from Boris Johnson (from Diana Zimmermann, ZDF, and others...).

And then, there was silence for an hour.

And then, there was nothing.

All off, until tomorrow.

The key to what happened is, I think, in this from Sebastian Fischer, the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER II) Spokesperson for Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union:


Any such briefing to Ambassadors would normally happen β€˜before’ any Deal was in the offing, and here we have a flat rejection that it will even happen tomorrow.

Also, that any Deal would happen so fast – given that we knew there were a whole slew of outstanding issues just this morning, not least fishery, cars, energy, and some loose ends of Level Playing Field – had given me some pause for thought.

I think then that Professor Simon Usherwood has the essence of it – that one side was trying to bounce the other into a Deal – or perhaps even the negotiators in Brussels were trying to bounce capitals into a Deal.


Fischer not mincing his words would be consistent with that – the Member States of the EU are not ready for this – for reasons we do not yet know.

The problem of course is one of trust – a commodity that has been in short supply throughout the negotiations to date. The EU does not trust the UK – at least since September and the fiasco of the Internal Market Bill.

If it were the UK trying to bounce the EU into a Deal... well, you don’t try that and not expect there to be any consequences.

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Is a deal by attrition the right strategy?

This evening is not insignificant. We were – at least earlier in the evening – probably closer to a Deal than we have ever been before, although what happened subsequently may put a ? over it all once more.

Tomorrow we might know...πŸ”·



John Worth, EU affairs writer and blogger.


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[This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article on 23 December 2020 with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected, and published with the author’s consent. | The author of the tweets writes in a personal capacity.]

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