Those hoping for white smoke in the Brexit negotiations tonight will be left disappointed. After a week of intense negotiations, late-night pizza and a warning from France, the UK and EU have agreed to pause the negotiations. Announcing the decision, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said significant differences remained on the issues of level playing field rules, governance and fishing rights.
We agreed to pause the talks in order to brief our Principals on the state of play of the negotiations. President @vonderleyen and Prime Minister Johnson will discuss the state of play tomorrow afternoon.
— Michel Barnier (@MichelBarnier) December 4, 2020
So, does this mean no-deal is now the more likely scenario? It’s worth stating that the talks have been paused rather than stopped. Both Barnier and Frost will brief their side on the state of the negotiations and the compromises that could be required. The talks are not over yet.
However, the most critical conversation is unlikely to involve either of them. Instead, it’s the phone call between Boris Johnson and EU commission head Ursula von der Leyen that is now viewed as critical. This is expected to take place on Saturday afternoon. At this point, the sense on the UK side is that a political intervention is required to move things along. Back in the first phase of Brexit talks, it was Johnson’s stroll with Leo Varadkar that proved pivotal to unlocking the stalemate over the withdrawal agreement.
With Monday widely viewed by negotiators and politicians as the real deadline for an agreement, this weekend will be crucial in deciding whether or not the UK leaves without a deal.
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