Brexit: resumed marathon discussions before Thursday’s summit

Brexit negotiator for the European Union, Michel Barnier, on October 15, 2019 in Luxembourg

Marathon talks resumed Wednesday morning in Brussels to try to reach an agreement with London on Brexit that the negotiators considered “possible” before the European summit on Thursday.

After a long round of talks until midnight on Tuesday, talks resumed this morning, European sources said.

“If it lasts, it’s rather positive,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. “Maybe we can break the deadlock, it would be desirable”.

On the Brussels side, the tone was very cautious on the chances of succeeding, the British being more positive, as from the beginning of the discussions on the plan of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to avoid a “no deal”.

“The outcome is no longer expected today,” told AFP a European source.

“British intentions have begun to be translated into a legal text but it skates on the substance,” said a European diplomat.

According to a British official, “the teams continue to make progress” and the discussions are “constructive”.

The chief EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, is due to make a point in the early afternoon to the ambassadors of the 27, on the eve of the summit, theoretically the last before the divorce scheduled for October 31.

Discussions focus on two thorny issues: how to avoid the return of a border between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, part of the UK, while establishing customs controls, and the right of glance granted to the Northern Ireland authorities on the divorce agreement that the Europeans do not want.

In the London proposal, Northern Ireland remains in the United Kingdom’s customs territory while applying EU rules for products destined for the EU, according to European sources.

Virtually nothing has filtered negotiations.

“Johnson has modified its original proposal so that there is no customs border” between the two Ireland, said Tuesday a European source.

Michel Barnier had judged Tuesday “possible” to reach an agreement this week. “Detailed discussions are underway and an agreement is still very much possible,” added his British counterpart, Brexit Minister Steve Barclay.

– An extra peak? –

This optimism and rumours of agreement had boosted the pound, which had increased its gains in the afternoon of Tuesday against the euro and the dollar, gaining more than 1%.

“It looks like we are making progress and the negotiations are moving in the right direction, but whether we can conclude a revised withdrawal agreement (…) in time for the summit on Thursday, for now it is not clear, “had qualified Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Three options are now on the table: an agreement, disagree or further negotiations after the Thursday-Friday summit.

“If the agreement can not be concluded today or tomorrow before the summit, then European leaders will have to decide the kind of mandate they want to give Michel Barnier,” said Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. The rule is indeed not to negotiate during a summit.

The assumption of an additional peak by October 31 is already circulating.

More than three years after the British referendum in June 2016 and while there is still no agreement, business circles fear the consequences of “no deal”.

Opposed to the agreement reached by Theresa May, who kept the UK in the EU Customs Union until a new relationship between the two parties was concluded, Boris Johnson rejected it once he came to power and presented a new plan.

AFP / Negotiations Brexit

Whatever the outcome of the discussions, the Europeans call for vigilance on the future commercial relationship with London.

After the Brexit, the United Kingdom will be a “new competitor” at the door of the EU, warned Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday. Same concern on the Dutch and French side, worried about the risks of a deficiency in goods controls at the Irish border.

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