THREE days ago the Prime Minister announced, apparently emphatically, that the trade talks with the EU were over.
He said there was ‘no point’ in discussions continuing next week unless the EU was prepared to discuss the detailed legal text of a partnership. The UK chief negotiator Lord Frost had told his EU counterpart Michel Barnier there was now no ‘basis for planned talks scheduled for today.
However, all is not necessarily as it appears. Though the former Euro MP Dan Hannan is convinced that it is basically over, others – who’ve never been under the illusion that the EU would negotiate in good faith, or prioritise the economic interests of its 27 members, as Mr Hannon was so sure they would – are less believing.
Despite all the alarums and excursions, video phone talks will continue today, so the door is by no means closed.
And what reason is there to ever trust Boris Johnson? As TCW writer Michael St George reminded me in an email this weekend: ‘Boris has now three times overrun the deadline which he originally set, and FWIW, I suspect it would be prudent to regard his apparent determination yesterday as at least as much a negotiating ploy to try and persuade the EU to moderate its intransigence and do a deal as it is a genuine statement of irrevocable intent.’
The jury is also still out at Briefings for Britain, going by the website’s latest newsletter. The signals have been mixed, they write. While the EU’s refusal to offer any reasonable compromise and the French President’s ever-tougher ‘tough talk’ on fisheries leave Johnson’s government with the same old ‘no deal or a bad deal’ choice, danger signs are still there that the Government will make the wrong call and accept a deal which leaves us shackled to the EU for years.
So yes, the Prime Minister has made the right noises. He’s asserted that the deal currently on offer is unacceptable, and that if the EU does not substantially revise its thinking, we walk away without a deal.
But in Brussels, there’s scepticism that the British position amounts to little more than posturing, according to Times reporter Oliver Wright.
Then there’s been some rowing back from elsewhere in the EU since. Dutch PM Mark Rutte, for example, is still cautiously optimistic and saying that it would be crazy if the talks broke down.
However, past experience of these games of bluff in an attempt to force the EU to come up with a better offer tell one story – that they fail abysmally.
In which case, should Boris Johnson just make his mind up now, once and for all, and fully commit – now – to leaving with no deal on December 31st?
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