Brexit Negotiations May Run to December While UK Eyes Deal by Next Week

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves number 10, Downing Street as he heads to the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Foreign Office on November 10, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
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A November 19th deadline to agree a Brexit deal appears to have already been brushed under the carpet, as talk of negotiations running to next week, or even next month, circulates.

Britain’s top Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost has privately told Prime Minister Boris Johnson that a so-called ‘landing zone’ — Brussels jargon for a state of negotiations where an agreement is in sight — may appear early next week. This revelation comes from Downing Street-friendly British tabloid The Sun, which reports an unusually specific timeframe for talks to progress, with Frost reportedly having said this development would come “as soon as next Tuesday”.

It was previously understood that European negotiators had hoped to have talks at the landing zone stage by this Thursday, as it will be the last time European leaders meet before the end of the year, meaning it will officially be the last chance for European leaders to discuss and ratify a potential Brexit deal. That deadline of sorts  — discussed as recently as last week — already seems to have been forgotten, as both parties now eye talks continuing into the near future.

Indeed, Brexit talks going to the wire, as European Union negotiations almost always do, is such a concern that Britain’s Sky News reports that the bloc is already considering ways to ratify a deal even if it is struck at the very last moment. One way it is reportedly considering to make an agreement is official, even if it is agreed minutes before midnight on December 31st — when Britain finally leaves the European Union for good — is to give the document a unique classification, sidestepping the need for it to be officially ratified.

The report cited an unnamed “senior” source in Brussels who said that it is already too late to go through the Union’s regular treaty ratification process: “We spent years signing off deals with Canada and Japan and, here we are, faced with a much bigger deal and we have six weeks left. We are, in diplomatic terms, in completely uncharted waters.”

The Prime Minister, for his part, said through a spokesman Tuesday that it was not clear that a deal could be signed at all, especially given the significant rift that persisted between the two sides in a number of key areas. The spokesman said: “Significant issues remain, particularly on the so-called level playing field and fisheries. We are working hard to find solutions which fully respect UK sovereignty, but it is far from certain that an agreement will prove possible and time is now very short.”

The spokesman said the Prime Minister’s position had not changed in that it would be better for Britain to leave the European Union without a deal at all by the end of this year, than enter into a disadvantageous deal due to pressures of time. He said: “The PM said he was incredibly confident that the UK will thrive with or without a free trade agreement with the EU.”

Irrespective of the confidence or fears of both sides, it remains the case that certain key areas of discussion remain to be settled, and there are no indications they will be resolved as, at the heart of the matter, Britain and the EU want fundamentally different things. The United Kingdom’s negotiators point to Europe’s relationship with Canada, with its free trade agreement but no restrictive requirements.

The EU, on the other hand, argue that because the UK is so close geographically, such a simple arrangement would not be acceptable to them. Brussels maintains that to enjoy free trade Britain must continue to bow to EU rules, regulations, and courts — something Brexiteers in the United Kingdom maintain would be a betrayal of the 2016 referendum and a failure to deliver Brexit.

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