Sensing the Mood Music in Westminster, EU Wargames Brexit No-Deal Preparations

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (R) and the British Prime Minister's Europe adviser David Frost pose for a photograph at start of the first round of post-Brexit trade deal talks between the EU and the United Kingdom, in Brussels on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Olivier HOSLET / …
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The European Union now expects the British team to walk out of talks preemptively as a negotiating tactic, as the bloc’s chief negotiator insists he is too smart for Boris Johnson’s tricks.

Negotiators in Brussels, who today met with their British counterparts for the next round of Brexit talks, are anticipating a show of bravado from Boris Johnson later this year, when it is claimed he would walk away from discussions to show how serious he is about getting the best deal for the United Kingdom.

The playbook for this power move would be to walk away from the negotiating table — perhaps in early summer — soon enough to still leave plenty of the year for a second set of negotiations to take place before the end of the transition period in December. A slightly improved deal agreed after breaking negotiations would be hailed as a great victory at home, according to the claims reported by the Daily Telegraph.

But Brussels negotiators are reportedly worried Britain giving up on negotiating a comprehensive deal in the coming months could actually be for real.

The British negotiating strategy document, published last week, revealed that if talks had not made enough progress by summer, the British government would pivot away from that dialogue to preparing for a no-deal exit by the end of the year. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, Britain and the European Union would trade on standard World Trade Organization rules, with — as the prime minister has said before — the two parties negotiating several small deals to govern specific areas of interaction on an as-needed basis going forwards.

This is emphatically not what the European Union wants out of negotiations. The bloc wishes to see the United Kingdom continue to exist under the jurisdiction of EU rules in a large number of competencies, and for those to be ruled on by the European Court of Justice, escaping which had been a key aspiration of the Brexit movement.

To safeguard against the British pulling out of talks — either sincerely or as a feint — European Union negotiators are now “wargaming” these eventualities, according to the Telegraph report.

Speaking to a German news magazine at the weekend, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier alluded to these tricks, insisting that he was smart enough to see around them. In a wide-ranging interview which kicked off with Barnier quoting former French President General de Gaulle — who famously twice blocked Britain from joining the forerunner of the European Union at all — Barnier said that while the EU was offering zero tariffs on trade, they expected the power to prevent the UK becoming too much of a competitor in return.

On the relationship between himself and Prime Minister Johnson, Barnier told Spiegel [The Mirror]: “I admire the stock of energy he can draw on in negotiations. Johnson is very clever, but he also knows that I’ve been in this business for a long time and that I’m not going to allow myself to be fooled.”

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