Boris Johnson in Brexit negotiations. Flickr/Number10
The mood music on the Brexit talks has varied in recent weeks on the question of whether or not there will be a deal. At times it has looked as though an agreement is done bar some last minute theatrics typical of the Brussels machine. And then a day or so later it seems the gap between the two sides remains too wide.
Now it seems that with only 13 days to go, yes 13 days, until the end of the transition period, Britain’s chief negotiator has warned that the talks are blocked.
Lord Frost – Frosty the no man – has been pretty robust throughout this process, trying to explain to the EU negotiation team that for the government he represents Brexit is a question of sovereignty.
On Thursday evening, Frosty issued his starkest warning yet:
“The situation in our talks with the EU is very serious tonight. Progress seems blocked and time is running out. The Prime Minister @BorisJohnson set out his concerns about the state of play to Commission President @vonderleyen this evening.”
The EU expectation seems to be that the British side will flip at the last moment on fishing and make humiliating concessions. Number 10 thinks this is a fatal misreading of the situation by the French. Britain wants control of its waters and although it sells most of its fish into EU markets, this dispute is, again, a basic question of sovereignty for Frost.
Following a telephone call on Thursday evening between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, Number 10 issued a downbeat statement:
“The Prime Minister underlined that the negotiations were now in a serious situation. Time was very short and it now looked very likely that agreement would not be reached unless the EU position changed substantially. He said that we were making every effort to accommodate reasonable EU requests on the level playing field, but even though the gap had narrowed some fundamental areas remained difficult. On fisheries he stressed that the UK could not accept a situation where it was the only sovereign country in the world not to be able to control access to its own waters for an extended period and to be faced with fisheries quotas which hugely disadvantaged its own industry. The EU’s position in this area was simply not reasonable and if there was to be an agreement it needed to shift significantly. The Prime Minister repeated that little time was left. He said that, if no agreement could be reached, the UK and the EU would part as friends, with the UK trading with the EU on Australian-style terms. The leaders agreed to remain in close contact.”
The talks are stuck on fish. No amount of sophistry can disguise it. Without substantial movement… it’s no deal.