Clock is tick­ing to March 2019

The Guardian - - NATIONAL BREXIT - What are the stick­ing points? What about a tran­si­tion deal? Could any­thing de­lay the talks?

be­ing too rigid and mak­ing un­re­al­is­tic de­mands that trade is off the ta­ble. But there is some flexibility: trade talks can be­gin af­ter “suf­fi­cient progress” on the di­vorce, a judg­ment EU lead­ers will make, in Oc­to­ber or De­cem­ber, de­pend­ing on progress. If the UK passes the – de­lib­er­ately am­bigu­ous – “suf­fi­cient progress” test, talks can move on to trade and other ar­eas. Both sides say they are pri­ori­tis­ing a rapid agree­ment on cit­i­zens’ rights to bring cer­tainty for 3.5m EU na­tion­als in the UK and 1.2m Bri­tons on the con­ti­nent. But con­sen­sus is de­cep­tive: the EU is in­sist­ing the Euro­pean court of jus­tice be the ul­ti­mate ar­biter in re­solv­ing dis­putes on cit­i­zens’ rights, in the­ory ex­tend­ing the writ of the Euro­pean court over the UK for a cen­tury. This role for the ECJ would prove toxic for hard­line Brex­iters and is even con­tro­ver­sial for some Euro­pean ju­rists. The EU also wants de­tailed guar­an­tees on cit­i­zens’ rights, al­low­ing peo­ple to live their lives as if Brexit never hap­pened. In­evitably, there will be sound and fury over the Brexit bill. Var­i­ous num­bers have been mooted: €40bn (£35bn), €60bn (£53bn) net to­tal, with a €100bn (£88bn) gross to­tal grab­bing the most head­lines. For now, the EU does not have a fi­nal num­ber but rather a range of sce­nar­ios.

The UK could even keep EU pay­ments, such as farm sub­si­dies, for two years, if it agreed to pay into the budget dur­ing that time. Ne­go­tia­tors hope that by con­cen­trat­ing on the tech­ni­cal­i­ties first, nam­ing a num­ber later, the fi­nal bill will be an eas­ier sell for the Bri­tish PM, be­cause it can be pre­sented as the price of a new deal. But the clearer the method­ol­ogy, the eas­ier it will be to do the maths, the big­ger the po­lit­i­cal storm.

The Ir­ish bor­der is a fraught is­sue and nei­ther side has ad­vanced de­tailed ideas in pub­lic on how to achieve the shared aim of avoid­ing a hard bor­der. The EU ex­pects to dis­cuss a tran­si­tion deal at a late stage in Brexit talks, pos­si­bly Au­gust 2018. The big­gest un­cer­tainty is an un­sta­ble UK gov­ern­ment, but the Brexit clock will not stop for an­other elec­tion, even if for­mal talks are sus­pended. The best Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors could hope for would be a few weeks’ ex­ten­sion in March 2019. But the EU will in­sist the UK is gone be­fore Euro­pean elec­tions in May-June 2019.

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