Britain’s Brexit transition period is due to end on New Year’s Eve – and, at present, trade talks between the UK’s negotiators and their EU counterparts remain mired in deadlock.
Boris Johnson is dashing over to Brussels on Wednesday for dinner with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen as part of a last-ditch effort to unblock negotiations ahead of a summit by EU leaders in the Belgian capital on Thursday.
There was goodwill evident on both sides of the Channel on Tuesday night after an “agreement in principle” was reached with regards to the Northern Ireland border, in which the UK agreed to drop controversial legislation from the Internal Market Bill that would have broken international law.
That followed business secretary Alok Sharma admitting, somewhat vaguely, on Friday that discussions had run into a “difficult phase” due to some “tricky issues”, responding after a Downing Street source had told the BBC on Thursday night that hopes were “receding” due to “eleventh hour” demands being unexpectedly introduced.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, had meanwhile told Sky News the UK is in a “reasonable position” and declared emphatically there’s a “deal to be done”, sounding not unlike Harry Redknapp rolling down the car window to talk up the prospect of landing Niko Kranjcar once again on transfer deadline days of yore.
While Europe’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier now says he thinks a no-deal scenario is “more likely”, the government continues to insist it is optimistic that disputes over fishing quotas and securing a “level playing field” to prevent unfair competition can be resolved in time and to the satisfaction of both parties.
The clock is nevertheless ticking on, with coronavirus and Christmas further complicating the picture and placing additional strain on diplomatic resources.
So will we be forced to revert to World Trade Organisation terms on 1 January 2021, with that body’s tariffs automatically imposed on our imports and exports?
Let’s ask the bookmakers.
William Hill is currently offering 8/15 odds on a deal being struck this year and 11/8 against, according to Oddschecker.
Peer-to-peer betting exchange Smarkets agrees on the first count but says the chance of a no-deal is 7/5.
SBK meanwhile has the chance of a trade deal being agreed in 2020 at 6/11 and sees the probability of talks collapsing at 6/4.
Oddschecker spokesperson Callum Wilson comments: “We’ve seen a spike in activity on the UK-EU trade deal betting market in the past couple of days and, as we keep hearing of ‘sticking points’ and ‘stalemate’ out of London and Brussels, the price on no deal keeps shortening.
“The weight of money on our market still suggests punters expect a deal to be reached, but there’s every possibility that price on ‘No’ could get a lot shorter.”
Smarkets meanwhile currently estimates the likelihood of a Brexit deal being signed in 2020 at 63.69 per cent, responding to more encouraging signs emerging.
“Despite the likelihood of a trade agreement shrinking, Smarkets users have not changed their mind on a potential extension to the transition period,” the company’s political analyst Patrick Flynn says.
“The prospect remains low, at a 17 per cent chance, basically unchanged since last week. Taking these two markets together, it seems the chance of a no-deal Brexit is continuing to rise.”