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23 January 2021
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EU contacts close to the talks say both sides are being constructive. They insist negotiations aren’t simply continuing because neither the EU, nor the government want to be blamed in a no-deal scenario and prefer not to walk away first.
“We’re carrying on talking because no-deal is a big deal,” one EU contact told me. “We think it will have a dramatic impact on lives and livelihoods. As long as talks aren’t going backwards, it would be irresponsible not to give this a chance.”
The now-infamous three main sticking points are still open, with tentative progress being made, we hear.
1) On fishing rights, EU whispers suggest a kick-the-can, down-the-road fudged compromise might be found (though not settled yet), involving considerable European concessions
2) The governance of the overall deal is being worked on in detail. Still to be agreed: what actions could be slapped with which sanctions, and who decides
3) Competition regulations – aka the level playing field – are still a big issue
Alongside technical talks, both sides say political intervention will certainly still be needed.
We aren’t behind the scenes in the negotiating room or on the closed calls between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen.
But however long these talks rumble on, ultimately neither the government, nor the EU, will sign up to a deal if they can’t claim it as a victory.
For Mr Johnson, that means being able to say the deal respects post-Brexit national sovereignty; that it allows the UK to make and take its own decisions.
Brussels wants to be able to confidently reassure the 27 EU leaders that the deal protects the single market and European businesses in it from what they feared could be unfair UK competition.
If there is a deal, the EU assumption is that many in the UK will want to trumpet what one Brussels insider called “a Great British Victory” and to point to EU concessions, real or alleged.
“If that narrative helps get a deal over the line in the UK, then it’s worth it,” he shrugged. “Few Europeans are paying attention to the Brexit process anymore. We don’t care about PR. We care about protecting our interests, deal or no-deal.”
That last sentiment, of course, is one loudly expressed by the UK too
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