Brexit deadlock is deeply worrying
EU BREXIT negotiator Michel Barnier’s admission that talks with the UK are in “deadlock” will force people on both sides of the Channel to confront the possibility that no deal will be reached by March 2019.
He is adamant this would be bad news, warning that “no deal will be a very bad deal”.
The CBI did not hide its alarm, noting that “talk of a deadlock will be deeply concerning to many businesses”.
There had been hopes that around this time talks could start on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. But the EU is emphatic that a stack of issues must be resolved before that can happen.
The status of EU nationals in the UK has to be sorted out; finding a solution to the Irish border is another priority; and there is pressure to nail down the terms of the divorce bill.
It is clear that the EU does not want the UK to go into the second stage of talks able to use these issues as negotiating cards.
The remaining 27 states need no reminding of the financial impact that Britain’s departure will have on the union. Will richer states have to stump up yet more cash to fund projects or will poorer countries have to accept a lower level of development funding?
Similarly, Ireland’s representatives will have left officials in no doubt about the enormity of the impact that a botched Brexit could have on its economy and on the peace process.
Both British citizens who live in the EU and people from member states who have made their home in the UK will want urgent clarification about their future status. Brexit has injected uncertainty into their lives and they will demand assurances their residency and employment rights are not under threat.
EU leaders and officials will have different theories about the UK’s stance in the talks. Is Britain (a) simply reluctant to show its negotiating hand, or (b) is Theresa May too weak to commit to a deal on such incendiary issues as the divorce bill, or (c) is the UK Government divided on key issues?
There are diehard eurosceptics who would welcome the UK walking away from the talks process but Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable has warned that the “willingness to entertain the possibility of a nodeal scenario is utterly reckless”.
Politicians in the UK and the EU need to remind themselves that a disastrous Brexit will come with an immense human cost in terms of lost trade and wrecked livelihoods. This is not the time for brinkmanship but grown-up cooperation to ensure that Brexit can be achieved without damaging anyone’s economy.
The EU should not seek to punish the UK for having the audacity to vote to leave, nor should British politicians indulge in ideological grandstanding. Europe is in the throes of a time of transition and minds should be focused on ensuring that citizens of all countries are spared suffering.
This is a noble mission which requires goodwill and intelligence but time is short.