European officials have identified summits early next year where they could seek a breakthrough in Brexit talks, as the European side is bracing for a crunch meeting in December to end in failure, three people familiar with the negotiations said.
The view in Brussels is that it’s up to the U.K. to make concessions before the EU will agree to move talks on to the trade deal that Britain wants. If it hasn’t done that by December, the EU will wait rather than force the issue or move to a Plan B, the people said. A summit in January or February could provide a second chance, they said.
Negotiations are deadlocked, with the British government so far refusing to meet the bloc’s demand that it commit to meeting financial liabilities of about 60 billion euros ($71 billion) and spell out how it proposes to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. The U.K.’s Conservative government -- constrained by divisions in its party and Parliament -- says it has made concessions already and it’s now up to the EU to show some flexibility.
Delaying a decision beyond December would make the Brexit negotiations even trickier for Prime Minister Theresa May, who at the same time is battling rebels at home on both sides of the EU debate.
Britain is due to leave in March 2019, with or without a deal. Businesses say they will start enacting worst-case scenario plans if there’s no agreement early next year on the transition arrangement that May hopes will smooth the exit process. Discussions on transition haven’t even started, though Brexit Secretary David Davis is hoping a deal can get done in the first quarter.
Should the U.K. fail to get a positive decision in mid-December, some leaders have suggested the next opportunity would be March, when the next full summit of EU leaders is scheduled. But diplomats have pinpointed an extraordinary meeting of leaders in Brussels on Feb. 23 as a chance to give the U.K. the green light -- if by then more concessions have been made.
There’s also the possibility -- as long as the U.K. doesn’t stage a walkout in protest -- that an additional summit could be called in January, the people said.
“We have no clear readiness from the London side to commit to further compromises and that’s why for the moment we are in a blocked situation,” Manfred Weber, the leader of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in the European Parliament, told reporters Tuesday. Weber, who is due to meet May on Wednesday, said it’s increasingly unlikely EU leaders will give the green light in December.
After the latest round of talks ended in failure, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier raised the prospect that the December summit could also be a flop. Initially, October was touted as the crunch meeting when talks were meant to wrap up on the divorce issues and move on to the future relationship.
Barnier said that he needed “real and sincere progress” on the divorce bill and other separation issues. “If that is not the case, then we will continue, and that will put back the opening of discussions on the future,” he said on Nov. 10.
— With assistance by Jonathan Stearns...Read more