Talks on the post-Brexit partnership between UK and EU sound just like last year’s talks on the Brexit withdrawal deal.
Every side is suggesting the other has to make a move. So if there’s a offer that’s going to arrive at the eleventh hour, perhaps.
This suggests negotiations would have to surface in September until an deal is achieved in October-giving only enough room for both parties to ratify a deal before the end of the year. Potential improvement has been reported this week-on the position of the European Court of Justice and on the general framework of a potential agreement.
Yet there are major gaps between the two parties, and these go to the core of what the Brexit debate is all about: how tightly associated will the UK remain with the EU in the future?
For the United Kingdom autonomy is crucial; for the EU the aim is to protect the dignity of the common market.
So right now, the two parties still seem in public to speak about each other.
When questioned whether the talks are near to resolution or collapse, a senior UK official who participated in the negotiations said they were “potentially equally close to both.”
“I can quite see how we could make a breakthrough relatively quickly if they (the EU) adjust their position.”
But for EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier the boot is on the other foot.
“By its current refusal to commit to conditions of open and fair competition and to a balanced agreement on fisheries,” he said, “the UK makes a trade agreement – at this point – unlikely.”
Mr Barnier maintains that EU decisions on tough topics are not political, but meant to protect long-term ambitions of the EU.
Yet his Canadian colleague, David Frost, made almost the same argument on the mindset of the Country.
“We have always been clear that our principles in these areas are not simple negotiating positions,” he said, “but expressions of the reality that we will be a fully independent country at the end of the transition period.”
Spoiler: it’s just the kind of stuff the trade negotiators tell.
However then all parties will have to determine whether and if they wish to negotiate, or if they want to step away.
The UK had thought there may have been further success this month, although it was still impossible. The EU was keeping so many other items in view.
EU members have just returned from a five-day marathon meeting based on a coronavirus economic recovery program and the EU budget for the next seven years. For them these issues became more important than commerce with the United Kingdom, so they needed to deal with them first.
Officials from Germany, now occupying the rotating EU Presidency, made it known that in September and October they would concentrate on trade negotiations with the UK.
And, though talks will begin in August-and improvements may be achieved in a variety of ways-the more difficult topics would remain to be discussed throughout the fall.
Time pressure becomes a major factor, because the implementation phase since Brexit ends at the end of this year.
But the music of the mood is essential too. Although the government of Boris Johnson views Brexit as an advantage, the EU also treats it as an mistake to be handled and it has consequences for such talks.
Usually, you enjoy freeing up opportunities and getting competition a bit freer if you have a trade agreement. The new agreement is more about the degree to which commerce would be less secure between the UK and the EU than it was before.
So it is difficult to be enthusiastic about.
But amid some grim reports in this week’s British media, there’s an important aspect to remember.
When trade negotiations fail, things usually stay the way they are. However, in this situation a collapse of the talks would contribute to unexpected and drastic shifts in the UK-EU economic partnership. There will be some improvements, agreements or no contract, at British borders anyway. This is going to be a problem.
Yet on all sides of the Atlantic, companies now dealing with the coronavirus are anxious for a degree of clarity from their elected officials to be offered.
So this is one justification to assume this deals can still be found, and some form of bargain-albeit incomplete-can still be made.