EU Leaders Weigh Up Hard Choices Over Brexit Trade Deal

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EU Leaders Weigh Up Hard Choices Over Brexit Trade Deal

The threat was implicit.

On the eve of their two-day summit in Brussels, the prime minister reminded EU leaders of his words back in early September.

A trade deal had to have been agreed between the two sides by 15 October for it to be in force by the end of the year, he’d said.

If not, he added: “I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.”

In other words – end negotiations and walk away.

Yet, Boris Johnson moved the goalpost himself on Wednesday evening.

In a call with the European Commission president and the European Council president he said he would wait for EU leaders to finish their summit discussions on Friday before deciding the UK’s next steps.

EU diplomats I spoke to were unimpressed.

“Boris Johnson swore before he’d die in a ditch. He’s set deadlines again and again and they have come and gone,” a seasoned EU figure told me.

But Brussels is far from sanguine about the prospect of failing to agree a UK deal.

Leaders like the Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte have said the Covid-19 pandemic makes it all the more important to have an agreement. The economic fallout of no-deal come the end of the year would provoke additional political and economic headaches EU politicians would far prefer to avoid. They assume Boris Johnson feels the same way.

Yet EU leaders are not yet all on the same page when it comes to how much they should give up or give in to get a deal.

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Brussels keeps calling on the UK to make concessions but a successful outcome will require compromises on both sides.

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And that is the real significance of this week’s summit.

It’s not all about Brexit.

EU leaders plan to discuss Covid-19, the environment and EU-Africa relations as well. But this is very likely the last time they’ll be face to face before negotiations with the UK end. It’s also the first time in a long time that EU leaders hold a detailed discussion on Brexit. For much of this year the Covid-19 pandemic has sucked the political oxygen across Europe.

EU Leaders Weigh Up Hard Choices Over Brexit Trade Deal

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