Time’s up!

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Why are the EU and the UK still negotiating? All sensible deadlines have come and gone, but Barnier and Frost just keep talking. What’s going on? I can think of two possible explanations:

Perhaps both sides keep expecting the other side to blink first because they both feel stronger than their counterpart. If that’s the case, it’s possible that a period without a trade deal will be needed to resolve this question once and for all – after all, you’d expect the weaker side to blink first, but if they don’t realise their own lack of strength, why would they?

Or perhaps it’s intentional. As Jon Worth wrote a month ago:

But what if this decide-one-way-or-another way of thinking is actually missing what is going on? It actually implies Johnson has to take a decision and will, eventually, do so. Doing so means he has to face someone down – the ERG if he goes for Deal, businesses and pragmatists if he doesn’t. Instead what if not deciding anything at all is actually the strategy? […]

Both sides will continue to talk (at the Barnier-Frost level), and enough agreement will be found on the technical issues to make sure neither side wants to officially end negotiations. But the clock will continue to tick, and with increasing urgency. And at some point the European Commission will be asked by the Member States to trigger the next stage of No Deal contingency […] but happen it will sooner or later if there is no real substantive progress on the main issues (fisheries, Level Playing Field, governance) in sight. Johnson can get away with this absence of a decision, UK side, as long as he chooses.

No matter what the reason for the endless negotiations turns out to be (and we might not know till Johnson and Frost hopefully publish their memoirs at some point), surely time’s more or less up. The European Parliament’s deadline will expire in a couple of hours, but even if they extend it, there’s almost no time left to ensure the new rules will be in place by 1st January.

In theory, the EU might find some creative way to extend the current transition by a month or two, but it’s by no means certain Boris Johnson would agree to it (let’s not forget he’s said many times that he won’t accept any extension).

So surely by now the only reasonable prediction must be that the UK will leave the transition period without a trade deal a week on Friday. Perhaps with some temporary mini-deals to cushion the blow a bit, but it’ll still be a massive disruption.

The EU will be expecting the UK to come creeping back with its tail between its legs within a month or two. The Tories think they’ll “thrive mightily”. They cannot both be right. What will happen then?

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